God Bless Newtown, CT

1Like = 1prayer

I have finally turned off the television for a while. For some reason, I have practically been glued to the news stories coming out of Newtown, CT. While it is hard to watch and hear the horror that those precious children and that brave school staff experienced, somehow I just feel the need to know how and why this happened.
Today, when the names were released, it was made even more real. Those names could be Elle and Annie. This could have happened anywhere, even here where we feel safe in our part of the world, just as the students and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary School felt. I cannot begin to fathom the pain those families are feeling right now.
It also makes me feel very thankful for the teachers who are responsible for my children every day. The stories of the bravery of the Sandy Hook staff are amazing! Because of their boldness and quick thinking, other lives were spared.
We’ll never understand completely why this happened. There have been many commentaries on role that our faith plays – it is the way, the only way to get through something like this – for the staff, for the families, for the friends and for all of us watching at a distance. We have to pray, trusting God for healing!
As for why I’ve watched this story so much, I think I am looking for some explanation – something that will tell me it couldn’t happen here. I am so looking for something I can do – it is a helpless feeling to know that so many are hurting.  I am also looking for the good – the ways that people are showing love and compassion. I have to look for the good – dwelling on the evil is just depressing. Tuscaloosa has felt that love and compassion from around our nation through the experience of the tornado of April 2011. I hope that Newtown is feeling the same human spirit as this nation reaches out to comfort and support them during this unbelievable time.
Tonight, I am praying for peace – that only God can give! God bless everyone in Newtown, CT!

Thankful Thursday – Treasured Christmas Memories

It was December of 2004 – Elle was 3 and Annie was 19 months old – when Father Christmas came to our house. It just so happened that Father Christmas showed up at Barry’s office on the afternoon of our Christmas Limo Lights Tour with our friends, the Stricklins and the Lowerys. He wanted to know what he could do for our family. 2004 was the year of the “Care Bear” for us – filled with chemo and more chemo, just trying to get me to the point of being ready for bone marrow transplant (which was scheduled for January 2005). Perfect timing – Father Christmas would show up at our house after our friends arrived – a surprise for everyone! Barry let me in on the secret just before he arrived! Another special treat that evening was provided my sweet friend Marly, then about 9 or 10, who shared beautiful Christmas music on her violin! Following some time with Father Christmas and our special music, away we went in the limo to see the Christmas lights around town with hot chocolate in hand. A magical night for me and my family with some very special friends, including Father Christmas!
It was December 2005, the year of the transplant, when I received an invitation for me and my family to attend a Christmas Party at the UAB Hospital Bone Marrow Transplant Unit. They asked what my girls wanted for Christmas and I thought they were just being nice. We arrived to Christmas music, sweet treats and a visit with Santa! In the very same room where I had spent many hours in stem cell collection, we were greeted by these fabulous elves and showered with LOTS of gifts from Santa! Something for everyone and more! It took us 2 carts to carry our gifts to the car.  It was almost embarassing but very heart warming at the same time. As soon as we got home, we sorted through everything and decided to “pay it forward” by donating some items to local agencies in town who needed it more than we did.

Let me explain the “Year of the Care Bear” – we have a Christmas wreath that we got the year we were married – each year we put something on the wreath that was significant in our family that year. In 2004, Elle gave me one of her stuffed Care Bears to take with me to my many doctor and hospital visits. It sits on my night stand to this day. It just seemed appropriate to add the green Care Bear to the wreath that year!
Today, I am thankful for these treasured memories to remind me of the importance of friends during difficult times, to remind me to treasure every moment and to know how blessed I am to be celebrating Christmas 2012!
Side note: Remember my friend, Marly – check out what this sweet, talented young lady (now a junior in high school) is doing now! She has started a handmade jewelry business called Knot Just Bracelets – check it out!

Simple Cookie Bars

“Have a Holly Jolly Christmas, it’s the best time of the year!” It’s that wonderful time of year when we are all going to parties often being asked to take a treat. With everything this season brings, time is important, so I usually make “bars” instead of cookies because it takes less time. Here are a couple of recipes I made last week that were delicious! Great ideas for your next Christmas party. They would also be great for gifts. The first one was my favorite!

Double Cookies and Cream Kiss Cookie Bars

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup mini chocolate chips
12 Oreo Cookies, broken up
25 Cookies and Cream Hershey’s Kisses *
 Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line an 8×8 inch baking pan with foil sprayed with cooking spray. Place butter and sugar into a large bowl, stir to combine, at least 2 minutes. Add egg and vanilla, mixing to combine. Add dry ingredients, chocolate chips and Oreo cookie pieces, stirring to combine. Press 1/3 of the dough into the bottom of prepared baking pan. Top with 5 rows of Hershey’s Kisses 5 per row. Top with remaining dough and gently press. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool for 30 minutes, cut into squares and serve.
Makes 12-16 bars
* I was not able to find Cookies and Cream Hershey’s Kisses so I used Hershey’s “Hugs” instead and I cannot imagine it being any better! If you like Oreos, you will love this one!
Double Delicious Cookie Bars II
1 & 1/2 cups chocolate graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup caramel bits
3/4 cup chopped hazelnuts*

Preheat oven to 350°. Combine crumbs and butter. Press into bottom of a 9″ x 13″ pan. Pour condensed milk over the crust. Sprinkle chocolate chips, caramel bits, and hazelnuts on top of milk. Bake for about 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool. Cut into bars and enjoy!

* I used pecans instead of hazelnuts.

“I don’t know if there will be snow, but have a lot of cheer!”
Happy Baking!

A Home Run for Sprayberry!

Four years ago, University of Alabama Baseball Coach Mitch Gaspard and his baseball team starting bringing their Christmas spirit to Sprayberry Education Center! In lieu of their own Christmas party, they decided to share with the students at Sprayberry! Coach Gaspard and his entire team and staff hosted a fun, Christmas spirit filled hour for the special education students who are served by the Sprayberry Center.


The freshmen were “elected” to lead the caroling and were assisted by some of Sprayberry’s own singers! 

Annie and her friends, Hunter Gregory and Allen Dye share a few smiles. It is so special to the students when the guys remember them from year to year. They are always so sweet to Annie!

Coach Gaspard believes in teaching life skills as well as baseball skills. This teams also volunteers their time with the Miracle League as well.
The baseball team provides all the drinks and snacks – anything a child could ever want – there is something for everybody!
Before the party, our awesome teachers assist the students in making special ornaments to hang on the tree like this precious fingerprint reindeer!

The players, one by one, assist the students with hanging their ornaments!

Someone once said, “A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child”. These guys were important in the life of a child today….. 

…..and here is just one smile to prove it!
It is definitely a “home run” for Sprayberry to have this awesome group of guys – coaches and players (and girls – the baseball secretary and coaches wives participate as well) as our friend!
Merry Christmas and Roll Tide!

Thankful Thursday – Amazing Grace

This week, 9 years ago, I received the news that no one ever wants to hear, “you have cancer”. How well I remember those words. I also remember looking straight at Dr. Hinton and saying “you don’t understand, I have a 2 year old and a 7 month old with a trach” as if he was in the wrong room. He told me that it was nothing I did or didn’t do, that it was just my bad luck. He also told me that there was alot of “hope in my situation” because of all the research going on with multiple myeloma. I was told they could treat it but there was no cure. I wondered if I would see my Annie get off oxygen and get rid of her trach, if I would see my girls start to school, if I would see my next birthday. When they told me they wanted to start treatment right away so that I could feel good by Christmas, I was confused – how would I ever feel good with cancer?
That Christmas morning, Barry and I read an article in the Tuscaloosa News about research in multiple myeloma. A physician stated that he thought there would be a cure for blood cancers in his lifetime. What a Christmas morning blessing!
Today, I am thankful for advances in myeloma research – it was a new drug that eventually got me to transplant in 2005. I am thankful that I was able to feel good at times through the treatment process. I am thankful that I got to see my girls start to school and now Elle’s in middle school! I am thankful to see Annie get rid of the oxygen and trach and have no other respiratory problems since then! I am thankful for Barry’s vow of “in sickness and in health”! I am thankful that I was told in 2011 “you could be in a very small percentage of patients with multiple myeloma who had an autologous (gave my own bone marrow) transplant who is cured”!!
 I am thankful that every 6 months when I see Dr. Hinton he tells me that I am “amazing”! I know one thing for sure – I am amazed by the grace of God, the love of family and friends – all of which has allowed me a completely different outlook on the future than I had on this day in 2003.
Christmas 2003 might have been the best Christmas ever – because we appreciated it more! Don’t let it take some kind of bad news like I got, to appreciate the reason for the season and to celebrate it to the fullest!
Jeremiah 29:11

Bejeweled Christmas Tree

This jeweled Christmas Tree just might be my new favorite Christmas decoration. First, it is something that I have been working on for a while and it is full of precious memories! I don’t remember exactly what inspired me to create this tree but I know that it will be treasured for many years to come.
First, I collected “jewels” for the tree over a period of time including:
Earrings without a match
Earrings that I know longer wear but have special meaning – i.e. a pair of earrings given to me by a college friend (and I haven’t lost them in 30 years!!) that are just no longer my style
Stick pins – remember those? – they were “in” when I graduated from high school and my Mom found several of them that had been given to me for graduation
Shoe clips without a mate
Angel pins that were given to me when I was going through my cancer treatment
Charms and pins from Alpha Gam conventions
“Earbobs” that belonged to my Mom
A few antique pins and earrings that I don’t wear
Shoe charms from Crocks that Elle no longer wears
St. Christopher charm – from high school
Christmas pins
ID bracelet from childhood
Monogrammed jewelry with my old monogram (before I was married)
And more!
First, I chose a Styrofoam cone (you could use any size) and covered it with green satin, using spray glue. Then I cut a tulle skirt and attached with colorful pins. The tree is mounted with hot glue onto an old brass candlestick I found at the thrift store. Some items are glued on and some are pinned on, leaving some space to add more in the future.
I loved doing this project and glad to have it completed, at least, for now! Each time I look at it, I am reminded of something or someone special!

"I Love Wendell" Party

Back in March, I introduced you to a very special person, my cousin, Wendell. A few people asked if he was my brother. I’m an only child but, if I would claim him any day. This past Friday, we experienced the joy of celebrating his 40th birthday with him at the facility where he lives.

Surprise! I think he suspected something was up but I don’t think he expected an “I Love Wendell” party borrowed from “I Love Lucy”, one of his all time favorite shows! Friends and family who came to visit led him into the day room where more friends and family awaited the celebration!
The birthday boy, who is absolutely one of the happiest people I know – any day, not just on his birthday! He loves a crowd, announcing that we were all part of a record – the most people to visit him in one day!
The “I Love Wendell” banner – the “flags” were cut from a collage of black and white “I Love Lucy” scenes – created from Google images and printed on card stock. I punched two holes in each and ran the ribbon through them! And, of course, there were balloons! What’s a party without balloons?
Who remembers the “I Love Lucy” Chocolate Factory scene? So… we had to have chocolates – chocolate cake, chocolate fudge and chocolate peanut butter balls!
Wendell gets the first bite of my Mother’s 12 layer chocolate cake! Her chocolate cake is a family favorite for any occasion and just perfect for this one!
Fantasy Fudge – the best ever!  Here is a link to Fantasy Fudge recipe!
 Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls – my favorite – Here is how to make them!
For drinks, we served bottled water with special labels and cranberry/sprite spritzer in plastic goblets for a festive flair! I had used bottle sticker labels for a party before but this time I made the labels on card stock with packaging tape using this tutorial!


 Guests who didn’t know Wendell as he was growing up enjoyed this black and white collage (created in Microsoft Word) of photos from his childhood through high school!

Meet one of Wendell’s dear friends – this precious lady is a friend of a friend of mine (she’s my friend, too, now!) who lives near Wendell and volunteered to visit him when he first moved there. After her first visit, she told me “I thought that I was going there to be a blessing to this young man, instead I was the one who received the blessing!” That’s the Wendell we love! She is a regular visitor to Wendell, always making his favorite banana bread to take to him when she goes! God bless this sweet angel for her kindness!
Another sweet blessing to Wendell is his former pastor from his hometown who now lives near him and visits regularly!
Thanks to the staff at Arbor Springs who take care of Wendell every day and who stopped by to celebrate his special day!
Wendell enjoyed having his aunts and uncles there to celebrate with him! I know one thing for sure – my Daddy would have loved this party and he would be so proud knowing that his brother, sister, sister in law and my Mom were there to support Wendell!

Wendell always has and always will enjoy having his cousins around him! What a great time we had with each other and with Wendell!
As a memento of the party for Wendell to keep, we all signed this Lucy poster – just a Google Image enlarged at the UPS Store!
At the party, I was talking to one of the other residents and explaining my relationship to Wendell  – I said he was like a little brother to me. This man said and “what a spunky little brother you have” – perfect description of Wendell! Happy 40th, Wendell and many, many more! We love you!
P.S. The “I Love Wendell” invitation was a creation of Whittle Whimsy
found at etsy.com. I love digital invitations that can be sent through e-mail or posted in social media.