Archive for January, 2011

My sister had another “Favorite Things” party last week.  Don’t you wish you were there?!!!  It was so fun.  She kicked off the whole thing by saying, “If you were planning on this being a night where you are in a hurry to be done, you came to the wrong party!”  Three and a half hours later, we had eaten our way through fabulous favorite foods, chatted with our favorite friends, and shared five of our favorite items in a gift swap.

Seriously, the food was amazing.  I think I added a couple dozen recipes to my own list of favorites.  But what I really long for is to just be invited to dinner at each person’s home when they make their dish again!  Every bite was tasty and my only regret was that I couldn’t eat more.  Thanks LaDawn, for that pecan pie – I love it when the pecans are kind of crushed because I think it adds so much to the flavor.  That is exactly how you made yours.  I could have stolen that whole second pie and not felt badly about it at all!

The gift swap was a treasure.  As each person explained why they chose their gift, there was lots of laughter (these gals are funny!) and our fair share of tears shed from touching stories being told.  We each put our name into the bucket five times – then we drew out five names.  Those were the five people that you got to give your gift to.  Yes, it took a long time to get through each person.  But it was worth every minute to share that evening together.  And I loved getting to know some of the important people in my sister’s life that I haven’t met before.  They became my favorite people simply by being important to her.

I wanted to share a part of a gift that I received from our friend Cendra.  She gave us an hourglass with the following note tied to it:


Watching sand fall from the top of the hourglass to the bottom has always fascinated me.  As the hourglass is first turned so that the sand begins to fall to the bottom, it is hardly even visible.  There is no sand in the bottom of the glass and for a few seconds it seems as if nothing is happening.  Then a few grains of sand begin to form a layer in the bottom of the glass.  It is still hard to see the grains of sand as they pass from one section to another but soon a small pile of sand appears, creating a layer which covers the bottom of the hourglass.  Depending on the size of the hourglass, the whole process may take a few minutes or even several hours.  Watching the complete process is fulfilling and satisfying.  When the top chamber is almost empty and the last grains of sand fall to the bottom chamber, it seems as if a silence has fallen also.

Memories have entered my life much like the sand falling in an hourglass.  At first I had no memories.  Slowly they began to enter my life and form a thin layer.  As the years passed, I could begin to feel memories forming a pile – representing family, friends, experiences, senses, learning.  Soon the piles of memories blend to form a very thick layer of life experience and feelings.  At times, I think the memories blend for a reason.  Some of the memories enrich new experiences and even cause older memories to become richer.

Our hourglass is limitless.  The life we live passes much like the grains of sand.  Even when we aren’t watching, the hourglass is still working.  It is silent.  At times we look back and sense the rich layer of memories that has formed over time.  What an amazing process.  I am fascinated.

I am grateful for the time I have spent with you.  I hope that there are many more layers of memories that we will accumulate and share together.

Love, Cendra

Time is a lovely gift to give in general but the idea of its relationship to memories spoke to me.  Knowing that many of you love to document life like I do, I thought that it would touch you as well.  Moments layering one on top of another to create the whole experience called life.  The visual representation of an hourglass will stay with me.  Grain by grain, time passes and we gather memories that shape who we are and what is most important to us.  Each moment, each grain of sand, plays a role in forming what we become.

I will never look at an hourglass the same again.  Thank you, Cendra.  And thanks to my sister for throwing another Favorite Things party.  I loved every bite, every word, every minute.

Want more info about throwing a Favorite Things party?  Click here to jump to my previous post that gives all the details.

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Cole at Age 2

Cole, you’re two!  How is it possible?  The time has flown by yet I can hardly remember life before you as well.  You fill our very existence so fully that we burst at the seams with the presence of you in our lives.

Did you know…

…that you are learning what it means to have a “time out?”

…that you are talking more and more – and even though we don’t always understand what you are saying, you understand us amazingly well.  We’re waiting for your verbal skills to catch up with that mind of yours.

…that you still wear size 18-24 mos. pants and size 2T shirts?  You are definitely slimming down from the roly-poly, chunky monkey baby that was Mom’s little butterball.  But thank goodness those cheeks of yours are still cute and chubby!

…that you usually like to share things freely with other children but have just clued in to the idea that two-year-olds think that everything is “MINE!”  It’s amazing and annoying how quickly you have embraced that concept.

…that you still have to take some random thing to bed with you in order to be happy?  It didn’t work out like you planned when you wanted the baby stroller one day – good thing I came back into your room a few minutes later to save you from your decision.

…that you have always been such an adaptable, happy little boy that I thought we would slide right past the “terrible twos?”  No such luck.  Who knew that you could be so adept at throwing tantrums at the drop of a hat?

…that you have learned some sweet dance moves, how do a forward roll and how to jump on and over a variety of things at TumbleKats?  You love going to class every week and are even getting better at following directions.

…that you love watching “Woody” and “Buzz” in the original Toy Story?

…that turkey dogs are your go-to food these days?  You wake up in the morning or from your nap (and any other time of the day for that matter) saying, “Hot dog?  Hot dog?”

…that you are an expert climber and like to pull yourself up onto the bar stools to eat or color or push computer buttons?  Your high chair is officially a thing of the past but thank goodness you haven’t figured out how to climb out of your crib…yet.

…that Mom is already plotting how we are going to take care of that uni-brow you were born with?  I’m just biding my time till you’re old enough for me to go after it.

…that you love trains and baby doll strollers and crashing cars?

…that you have started calling me, “Mummy” (said with a British accent and everything…what’s that all about???)

…that your current favorite book is Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton?  You laugh like crazy when the turkey puts his clothes on the wrong places and says, “Ooops!”  We have to play the same game when we get you dressed – but hey, it’s better than the screaming fits you’ve been having instead.

…that Uncle Todd and cousin Ry-Ry have taught you how to swing your plastic golf club like a pro – much to the delight of Grandpa Hall?

…that you and Dad make forts in our bed by having me pull the sheet over your heads?  You like to hang out under there and play the bowling game on the iPhone with Dad or just rest your head on his shoulder.

…that you would have been happy staying at Wal-mart all day just watching the ladies blow up your birthday balloons?  You were captivated the whole time.  Now I know what to reward you with if you don’t throw any fits while grocery shopping!

…that everyone who meets you feels like they are your best friend because you are so charming and friendly?

…that you are the light of our lives?  I know it sounds corny but it’s so true.  Thank you for being you and for giving us so many experiences that we never would have had without being parents.



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What a day!

Cole was one happy little dude as both mine and Jason’s families gathered at our home to celebrate Cole’s second birthday.  He officially turns two on Thursday but Sunday evenings seem to be a good time for everyone to get together.  We had a full house – full of family, full of balloons, full of laughter and full of love.

While planning the party and throughout the decorating process, Jason entertained Cole by helping him practice blowing out his candles.  He sang him “Happy Birthday” and taught him to wait till the song was over before he blew.  After that, Cole referred to his party as, “Happy, Happy!”

I can’t think of a better sentiment for the day.



I even decided to tackle making a meal for the event.  With the help of Grandma bringing Cole’s choo-choo cake, Aunt Carolie and Aunt Saige bringing other desserts, Aunt Kara and Aunt Crystal handling the appetizers, and Aunt Kendra helping with the main dish, I was able to actually pull it off.  And it didn’t hurt that I planned a meal that is easy to make and can be done in advance.

Here are the recipes for an easy but yummy feast that is sure to please any crowd.  Just click on the images to download a copy.

By the way – all of these recipes are great not only because they taste good but are easy to have the ingredients on hand.  The Mexican Casserole is a good option to take to neighbors, friends or family who need help with a meal.  And the Cake Mix Cookies are so versatile depending on what flavor or color you are going for at the moment.  As you already know, I am a simple cook.  I don’t like too many ingredients or too many steps to follow so all of these recipes are right up my alley.


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Life with a quadriplegic is interesting.  It requires constant adjustment to things that many people naturally don’t have to think about.  Shoes have to be pushed out of the pathway if they hope to survive not being run over by a wheelchair.  Necessary items like a pen or checkbook or bottle of water are kept on top of the desk or counter within easy reach.  If not, I spend half my day fetching items.  It might be easy for the rest of us to just grab our laptop while we lounge in bed in the evenings but for Jason, it’s virtually impossible without help.  An iPad gives Jason all kinds of lightweight, easy-access, technical freedom that he has never had before.

We designed our home so that he could park his van on the correct side to access the ramp going into the house from his automatic doorway.  Our bathroom sink was specifically built for Jason to fit underneath it while looking beautiful at the same time.  The handles on all of our doors are levered – perfect for someone who can’t use his hands.  We have lots of open space, few walls and minimum hallways to allow the wheelchair to get around effectively.  To someone visiting, our home looks very normal and one in which any family would feel comfortable – but we have thought about every corner, every counter height, placement of each piece of furniture and accessory, the width of every door, a plan for every traffic path.  Every nook and cranny was analyzed and planned for according to the lifestyle of functioning with a quadriplegic in our family.  I prefer to help Jason to be as independent as possible, which in turn frees me up as well.  It’s a win-win situation for sure.

All of these adjustments and modifications are second-nature to me now.  I walk through the house tidying up as I go, moving this toy so Jason can get to his office door, shifting that pair of shoes so he can reach the light switch, sliding the pile of mail closer to the edge of the counter so he can reach it.  Making things accessible.  That’s one of my jobs.

I think about this idea of accessibility in relationships as well.  For about the first three months of my illness I was in survival mode.  I fell asleep about every 30 minutes.  I stared at the walls, unable to even focus on watching television.  A few sentences made up conversations but mostly on the part of the other people around me.  Because of this, Jason was very protective of me and asked friends and neighbors not to visit.  I simply couldn’t handle it.

As the months passed, I found that I was able to start adding things back into my life again.  This included relationships.  In fact, I used relationships as a tool for healing.  When friends asked what they could do to help, we scheduled a time for them to come visit.  I needed company to help distract me from the pain that has been a constant companion since May 1.

Then I got to the point where I could participate more in life and needed activities to do.  Cole and I spent our mornings having “play dates” with other moms who have toddlers.  And even though I have made a great deal of progress and can do more and more each month, I still try to keep these play dates with as many friends as possible.  It has been a great activity for Cole but an even better one for me.  After being deprived of the ability to pay attention to others, I have learned even more about of the necessity of being accessible in order to nurture relationships.

Creating friendships takes time.  It takes effort.  It’s hard work to focus on someone else and make your relationship with them meaningful.  I have had many blessings and learning opportunities from being sick like this but one of my favorite blessings is the opportunity I have had to develop the foundation of friendship with women around me.  I better understand the value of making myself accessible to others and inviting them into my life.

So as I walk through my life with Jason, sweeping shoes and toys out of his way, I am reminded of doing the same for friends and family.  Making myself accessible.  Pushing aside my fears of opening up and creating a clear path toward relationships that are tied at the heart.  A little work goes a long way.

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Many of you know that I am a fan of Becky Higgins’Project Life,” a photo album consisting of at least 365 photos depicting an entire year.  The idea is to take one photo a day, write about it and then compile it into an album.  Since starting the project two years ago, I have adapted it to fit my needs each year and usually add more photos each week, less journaling.  The writing became a little cumbersome and I found I wanted to show more photos than just seven per week.

I just received my Project Life album (currently unavailable through amazon.com but more are coming in the next few weeks) and although I do not use all of the pieces and parts to the kit, I find that the 70% I use well worth the cost of the entire thing.  For me, it just works.

  • I like being able to simply slide my photos into my album, jot a few lines on the journaling card and walk away.
  • I like adapting the concept to fit my needs by often using a whole week or multiple spots for just one important event that I don’t want to limit to a single photo sleeve.
  • I like that all of the scrapbook-ish elements are already done for me and I just have to pay attention to capturing the moment through my lens and pen.

  • I like that I can leave it out in my family room throughout the year and that people actually browse through it as a work in progress because it’s manageable to look at.
  • I like that I end up taking a lot of photos of things that I wouldn’t normally have a reason for snapping that shutter button but are important pieces of our lives.
  • But mostly, I like that at the end of the year I have an entire album full of our family’s memories and if I didn’t want to do any other memory keeping, I wouldn’t need to.  Done.

So yes, this system works for me.  I love the idea of using her digital version because I am very into the compactness of albums from Shutterfly or Snapfish or mac.com, etc.  Big albums become so cumbersome.  But I can’t get past the fact that so many people enjoy the work in progress aspect of the photo album format so I keep coming back to it.

What do I use from the kit?  Here are the specific items that I use every year:

  • specialized sheet protectors (vital for me)
  • printed “designed” cards that create a title and ending page and label each week (also vital – I don’t want to scrapbook this stuff myself)
  • journaling cards (I use about half of what is given)

The rest is available for me if I get ambitious or want to add a little something but to be honest, I end up not using most of it.  I order a new 12×12 album from We R Memory Keepers simply because I like their classic leather ring albums in all the sizes.  All of this means that I don’t really do this project because it is cost effective, although it can be if you stick to using Becky’s album.  I use the kit because it is simple and incremental and half of it is done for me.  And it even allows me to also be able to spend a little time on other memory keeping projects if I want.

Here I go with Project Life.  Another loosely-interpreted “photo a day” year at the Hall house.  Or should I be more realistic and just call it “Project Cole,” since 90% of the photos revolve around this little rascal anyway.  Good thing he’s so dang cute!

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One Little Word

Ah, the power of just one little word.

For those of you who have taken Ali Edwards‘ challenge to choose a word each year that you want to focus on, learn more about and develop more completely in your life, you know that this exercise can be quite empowering in our individual quests of becoming more than who we currently are.

Two years ago my word was “savor.”  I wanted to live in the moment more and savor every second of being a new mother.  It helped me to be more present and live with greater intention.  Last year I chose “hope.” Oh, how I love that word.  To me, it is so much more than just a wish thrown out into the universe with the desire that something will return back.  It is a word filled with gratitude.  It is a word calling for action.  It is a word reflecting optimism in it’s most undiluted form.  Hope is a state of being for me and comes with it a determination to move forward with a positive mindset and open heart, ready to create whatever it is I am hoping for.

This year I am choosing a word that is a neighbor of my friend Hope.  They walk hand-in-hand and often cannot be found one without the other.  Why am I choosing a word that is so similar to what I chose last year?  Well, because it keeps coming back to me.  Presenting itself in and out of the center of my vision, asking me to pay attention to it.  So, pay attention, I will – gladly welcoming the opportunity to dig deeper into my understanding of this word.  To broaden the strokes of my experiences and knowledge with it so that it is even more ingrained into who I am.

I choose Faith.

See what I mean?  They are so similar, don’t you think?  Why then, is this the word for 2011?  I have asked myself that question many times already, as I have ignored the cues steering me toward it, looking instead for something different or more unique.  But no, in the brainstorming of a variety of words, each shuffling against one another for the top spot, Faith has won.  Has jockeyed itself to the top of the list and the forefront of my mind.

I think one reason why Faith is on my mind right now is because, as you know, I am at the end of overcoming an intense challenge in my life.  My body is different.  I have a huge scar on my stomach and my organs have been shifted, added to and removed.  I have lost half of my hair and too much weight.  I carry a slowly shrinking, but still swollen belly that keeps me from wearing normal clothes without major overhaul done first.  I have bruises on my thighs from daily insulin shots.  I walk more carefully, sleep more often and eat more cautiously than I did a year ago.  And that is just my physical condition.

I could list similar changes to my emotional, mental and spiritual health as well.  Everything is different than it was 8 1/2 months ago.  I understand this is normal but I also find myself feeling a little unsteady about where I go from here.  What is reality for me?  I am still healing so I know it will keep changing but certain things are starting to come into focus as being my new normal.  What are those things and how do I sort them out and fit them together to create the person I am supposed to become because of this experience?

Where I do go from here?

Finding those answers is going to take some faith.  Faith in God, faith in healing, faith in my family, faith in myself.  I already know a lot about faith.  I use it and believe in it and understand it from experiences I have already had throughout my life.  To me, faith is hope solidified and is centered in gratitude.  I want to explore these ideas and learn even more about what faith means to me personally.  I want to dig deeper.

But mostly, as I step with what seems like a lot of caution and hopefully some determination along my path of life, I want to remember to simply have faith.  I want to remember to use it, remember that it works, remember that it is a power that can help me understand and create the person I am supposed to be.  I want faith to help me not lose sight of hope.

Things will get better.  I will continue to heal.  I will continue to become something more than I was before I got sick.  We will emerge even stronger as  family.  It will get better.

Just have Faith, Kolette.

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My husband Jason is a motivational speaker.  He has traveled the world speaking to corporations and groups about how to overcome adversity and deal with change (something many of us are working through right now).  Jason recently spoke for a group of orthodontic staff members and during his presentation told a story about “Chore Cards.”

After Jason broke his neck when he was fifteen years old, his father told him that even though he was in the hospital and couldn’t move 7/8ths of his body, he was still required to do his chores.  Of course he didn’t mean that Jason was to mow the lawn and take out the garbage, but he was required to do certain things each day in the hospital to keep himself as healthy and happy as possible.  Jason’s father knew that a positive mental attitude was going to be the majority of his battle and wanted to make sure that Jason had a fighting chance.

Some of Jason’s “chores” included reading a list of his strengths three times a day, listening to or watching something funny each day, and reading a list of his goals each day.  Each of these “chores” were listed on cards that Jason read throughout the day.  Instead of lying there, feeling sorry for himself, Jason’s father understood that if he kept his mind active with uplifting things, that his ability to overcome his disability would dramatically increase.

For this recent speaking event, Jason asked me to create 8 “Chore Cards” for the participants.  Each card represented a principle that Jason taught about and is a physical reminder of our ability to overcome our own adversities.

As I think about this new year, even though I don’t necessarily set New Year’s Resolutions, I can’t help but decide how I want to improve my life in some way.  I go through the resolution and goal-setting process often (click here for more on that subject) and as I do, I can’t help but let my mind wander to those days before I knew Jason – when he was fifteen years old and his father understood the power of having something to work toward.

Would you like a set of printed “Chore Cards” of your own?  A little motivation and a lot of inspiration wrapped up in a bundle?  We invite you to get your own set of Chore Cards from Jason – quotes that will look great wherever you decide to use them and make you feel good in the process.  They make a fabulous gift for someone else or to give to yourself.

Click here to order your set of quotes from Jason and enjoy a little bit of love from the Halls while you are at it!

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