Sarah Withem – LHS 2018

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Sarah Withem is our Lufkin High School scholarship recipient this year.  What a lovely young woman…in body and spirit.  Very friendly, warm and open.  She laughed often, has a big, genuine smile and that reminded me of Lauren.  We enjoyed getting to know her after pictures were made.  She is active in her church and helps teach 2nd grade boys…she is brave…lol.  She will be living on campus and plans to join the Baptist Student Union to make more friends and be with other Christian students.  She will be working part-time to help pay for her schooling.  She wants to be a Speech Language Pathologist.

After being notified of the scholarship Sarah wrote a really thoughtful thank you note to us.  In it she said, “I feel very fortunate to have been chosen as the recipient of a scholarship that believes in love, action and faith.  Those three words drive my life, and I admire this foundation for standing behind those concepts.” 20180516_153433-1She took the initiative to look up Lauren, our foundation and learn about us.  Wow…that says a lot about her character and her heart.  I have no doubt we chose well this year.  She is special and her parents should be proud of her…they have raised a lovely, young woman.

The Zoo

I always ask friends and family to perform a Random Act of Kindness (RAK) on March 7th and this year was the 8th Anniversary of Lauren’s passing.  They never fail to accept the mission… to make my heart happy and brighten the day of the person/s who receives their act of love and kindness.  I heard from several friends and the ways they “showed the love” was as unique and various as they are.  Andrea gave homemade peach jam to her co-workers.  Denise put a beautiful plant in her local park.  Elizabeth blew debris off her neighbors driveways and sidewalks.  Ben donated to an organization that helps young mothers and babies.  Can you imagine the smile on the faces of those who benefited from these fabulous acts of kindness and love?  I can.  I know there were more RAK’s that went unspoken, I had some too, and those are just as awesome and special as the ones I heard about.  Thank you all for spreading love and kindness.

 

 

By the time it came to me, on March 7th, it was too late to implement my RAK.  I didn’t make it out to the Ellen Trout Zoo in time before they closed…so I went the next day.  As it turns out it was the perfect day to go.  It was a beautiful, sunny, spring day.  I noticed lots of families, at the zoo, enjoying their outing.  I went to the ticket window and told the young woman there I wanted to pre-pay for some admissions, some RAK’s for people entering the zoo, in memory of my daughter.  She thought that was a wonderful idea and wanted me to write down my name and info so she could tell the Zoo Directors about this.  I told her that I knew them, Charlotte & Gordon Henley, as I had volunteered at the zoo before and my kids participated in camps there.  As I was writing down my info, a family of 3 generations walked up…3 young children, 2 parents and 2 grandparents.  I nodded to the woman that I wanted to pay their admission.  She gave them a total and said it was already paid for by me, in memory of my daughter.  I really didn’t want them to know but it was ok that she told.  They thanked me, said what a great way to honor her memory and gave their condolences.  We chatted a few more minutes and I learned they were from out-of-state.  I took a family picture, inside the zoo, so everyone could be in the shot. (you know from past posts, that it is my “thing” to do for others)  The kids were making “silly faces” and I made a deal with them.  “Let me take two, nice smiling faces… then we could do the silly one”.  It worked and of course the kiddo’s liked the “silly face” picture better because the whole family had a goofy face going on.  I went back to the window and chatted with the woman about Lauren.  There was money left over for more families to enjoy their day at our fantastic little zoo and that made my heart happy.

 

For many years the Ellen Trout Zoo has done educational summer camps for elementary kids, Zoo Safari, to learn about animals and conservation.  I helped with those camps when I was an Active in Jr League and it was one of my favorite “jobs”.  When you are in Jr High you can apply, for a limited number of spots, to be a Jr. Zoo Keeper for a 2 week period during the summer.  The kids get to work with the animals, feed them and go with the staff “behind the scenes” in the habitats.  Both Lauren and Taylor enjoyed participating in both of these programs that the Henley’s started.  They have been Directors at the zoo for over 30 yrs and our zoo has won many awards from their and the staff’s hard work.

Lauren hated bugs/insects that flew… like june bugs, “skeeter eaters”, moths, bumble bees…pretty much any flying bug.  She would run, scream and do anything, including push someone in the bug’s path, to get away from the bug…lol.  In Jr Zookeeper you got to pick two areas you wanted to work in and one of her choices was always the Snake House.  That girl played with snakes, non-poisonous and under supervision,  but was so afraid of flying bugs….go figure….lol.

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Not a snake but a live tarantula in her hand.

 

 

john Arthur martinez

my-tattooSpeaking of music and how it moves me.  We now have a small bungalow in Fredericksburg and we go back and forth between our homes in the Hill Country and the Pineywoods of Texas.  A few weeks ago I went to hear one of my favorite musicians, john Arthur martinez.  (Yes I capitalized his name correctly, read his Bio to see why) He plays about once a month at Fiesta Winery on 290 outside Fredericksburg.  If I’m in town I like to go hear him and his fellow musician, Chris, play and sing.  They both can pick a mean acoustic guitar and Arthur does most of the singing.  I didn’t know much about his Bio except he had several albums and has been playing and singing for many years.  I was trying to find the name of one of his songs, which this story is about, when I learned more about him besides the facts of he can sing, play and writes his own songs.  In 2004, on the TV talent show Nashville Star, he wound up beating Miranda Lambert for second place. He has traveled the world and shared stages with artist from Dwight Yoakam to Elton John…and Emma Lou Harris because he wrote a song about her guitar.

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and when I walked up I gave a small wave and Arthur nodded his headat me as he sang.  He knows me by face from being there on several occasions and our small conversations.  He is always friendly and chats with his listeners when he is on breaks.  I was sitting outside listening to the guys and was on the porch area with them but over to the side about 15- 20 ft away.  Most of the tables on the ground were full of people.  I had been listening about 30 minutes when a couple sat down beside me.  Between songs I spoke a sentence or two to them saying how much I enjoy hearing the guys.  They agreed they were both talented.  At times Arthur gives the back story to the song he wrote and is about to sing.  He starts telling how a little while back he was a HS Tennis Coach and one year they had 4 students die in a short period of time.  How hard it was on their classmates, staff and him because he knew these students.  How they were too young to die so tragically.  How he wrote a song for them but used different names.  How he is now finally able to say their real names when he gives the back story to the song.  It’s about spinning their wheels as they are raring to get out of High School and town to “start their life”.  As I’m listening to him speak I start to tear up, it hits me deeply as a parent who lost a 21 yr old daughter.  I can feel the parents pain…I know their anguish.  It hurts me that their lives were cut short like Lauren’s…their potential… gone, the hopes and dreams you have for them…while never come to be…the major milestones in life…gone.  As I listen to him sing I start to frequently wipe the tears from my face.  I know the couple sees me because they have to look past me to see the musicians.  After Arthur finishes his song I look their way and tell them I have never heard him sing that song before.  How it deeply touched me because I had lost my 21 yr old daughter.  They said they thought that might be the reason for the tears because they had seen the tattoo on my leg and how sorry they were for my loss.  We chatted some more before they left to head back home to San Antonio.

Life is precious and short, live it to the fullest.  Don’t take any day for granted because we dont know when our time is up…only God knows that.

 

~~Music~~

Music…. it fills me with many different emotions.  I have had to leave Hobby Lobby because certain Christian songs came on and had me in tears as they spoke to me.  I can be listening to Sirius Radio and a Bread song comes on…it makes me smile most of the time.  It brings back memories of Lauren stealing…uhhhm taking…my Bread CD.  How many of you know that group?  Believe me when I went in the stores looking for Bread’s Greatest Hits CD none, yep none, of the young workers had heard of them…lol.  Lauren liked music from her Dad and mine younger days as well as her “time”.  From us she liked Steely Dan, one of those CD’s went missing too, America, James TaylorThe Doobie Brothers, ABBA and Tom Petty are a quick few that come to mind.  From her time I can’t hear “Drops of Jupiter” without singing parts of the song and wonder what she is doing in Heaven….is she seeing the same moon, stars and milky way as us?

Tell me did the wind sweep you off your feet

Did you finally get the chance to dance along the light of day

And head back to the Milky Way

And tell me, did Venus blow your mind

Was it everything you wanted to find”

The song “Snake Farm” makes me laugh.  The first I heard of it was in New Braunfels.  In the summers we went camping on the Guadalupe River and we passed the Snake Farm there.  She started singing part of the song...”Snake farm it just sounds nasty, snake farm it just sounds meeeann”… and we all started laughing.  On that trip and from then on she would just starting saying the line out of the blue and make us all laugh… good memories.  Now her Dad will say it out of the blue and we smile and laugh.

She liked to hear “live music” as well.  She came to see us in Fredericksburg, while we staying in our RV, about 5 months before she passed.  The weather was great and we went to Luckenbach to hear the McKay Brothers, who had played for our 25th Anniversary Party in 2008.  It was a special, memorable day all round.  And the first time we went back after she had passed, we wrote “RIP Lauren Alston 3-7-10” with a black Sharpie pen on the wooden picnic table where we had all sat, with tears in our eyes.

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Lauren with Hollin McKay of the McKay Brothers, in Luckenbach, Tx in Nov 2009

 

 

Carollei Elizabeth

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I was recently contacted by private message from a high school friend of Lauren’s.  Her name is Meghan and she is expecting a baby girl in September.  She wanted to know if it was alright with me if she used Lauren’s middle name for her daughter’s middle name.  She wanted to name her at least in part after her friend.  I was surprised and said what an honor that would be.

Meghan said “Lauren was one of the most beautiful people I have ever known.  I couldn’t see naming her without involving Lauren somehow…Baby girls name will be Carollei Elizabeth.”  I told her the first name was unique and beautiful.  Meghan said she combined two family names to make it.

She went on to say, “I think of her almost every day.  I don’t know if you have kept up with what’s gone on with me, if not I don’t blame you, but the same year we all lost Lauren, I also lost my son to a bad birth defect. The one thing that gave me comfort over the last seven years is knowing Eric is with Lauren laughing and smiling… Heck me and Camille, (another friend) came to the conclusion that Lauren liked him too much and kept him.”  I told her I had not known about Eric and how sorry I was that she too had lost a child.  She never got the chance to hold him and get to know him, like I did with Lauren, but the loss is still great.

She went on to say the other day she had found a picture of her and Lauren from the Renaissance Festival from years ago.  It was blurry but she put it up on her memory board because… “that was one of the best days ever….well for me it was, Lauren ended up getting really sick from eating shrimp at the food court.”  She said it was after they got back and late that night they called us to come get her.  I don’t remember this so it was probably her Dad who went after her.  Meghan said, “Sorry I just remember saying… bro I told you to eat turkey legs and sausage…you got brave and ate shrimp…you did this to yourself…lol“…. and then… Lauren replied something I can’t write.  I can just see and hear those two having that conversation in my head….sounds just like them…lol.   They are both funny and quick witted.

 Meghan went on to tell me some things she learned from Lauren; how to jump up and click her heels together, how to not take the bullcrap from other kids who were being jerks to her in school, how to be kind.  That Lauren had brought her out of her shell and she had taught her more than anyone else in her life.  I was humbled and blown away by her words and tears started falling.  I told her she always had those things in her that Lauren just helped her bring it to the surface.

She replied, “I know, but Lauren saw them in me and helped me realize how awesome I actually am.”

I told her that her words made me cry and she said she didn’t mean to do that.

I said “I know that but your words are so touching. You want your child to be good and kind to others. To know the impact she had on others makes me proud and that her life was worthwhile and she showed God’s love to others. She wasn’t perfect but she was a pretty good kid and I miss her terribly.”

She said that Lauren helped make her who she was and that Carollei was named after 3 strong, important women in her life.  Meghan said “that it would probably make her headstrong, opinionated and a little bit goofy” but she was coming to terms with the fact she would probably have a bull-headed child.

Hmmmm…sounds familiar…I will pray for her.  ; )  : )

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Cristina Williams ~ LHS 2017

Met Cristina Williams our recipient for Lufkin High School 2017.  We enjoyed getting to know Cristina during “picture time” before the awards ceremony.  She is a very quite, respectful young lady…matter of fact I think we scared her with how talkative and loud we can be…but she got used to us peppering her with questions and our laughter.   She is in the LHS band and plays the clarinet and is thinking of trying for the SFA Band.  She is already a CNA and has plans to work her summers and then concentrate on school during the semesters.  Her family has had some health issues and that has steered her toward her chosen path.  She is going to start the Pre-Med program and major in Biology from there she wants to go to Baylor and become an Anesthesiologist.  She then wants to come back to work in Lufkin and to also start a youth program to help keep kids on track to achieve their goals and dreams.

Here is part of her thank you note:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Bryan Alston,  

It is an honor to receive the Lauren Alston Memorial Scholarship.  Mr and Mrs Alston I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  I understand how important this scholarship is and I promise that the name Lauren Alston will forever live with me, as I attend SFA, in this cruel yet beautiful world.  I am glad you gave me the chance to achieve my goals.  I thank you for lifting this financial burden that almost stopped me from pursuing my dreams.  I thank you for putting your faith in me.  It is good to know that there are good and kind people still left in the world. 

So once again I thank you, Cristina Williams

Precious baby hats & blankets

17820715_10208042508449951_1898368167_oLauren’s cousin, Jaymi Taylor, posted a message on facebook a few months back.  She wanted to crochet some tiny baby hats and blankets to give through a program, Carewear, at St. David’s Hospital in Austin, Texas.  She wanted to know if anyone wanted to join in.   She was making some herself already and she volunteered to crochet more for anyone who bought yarn.   I jumped at the chance to participate.   So we gave Jaymi a Love, Action, Faith scholarship to continue Lauren’s legacy of helping others.

Jaymi enjoys crocheting and it helps with her anxiety…it calms and centers her…giving her something to focus on.  I can certainly relate to anxiety issues.  A few years ago I had an anxiety/panic attack that sent me to the ER thinking I was having a heart attack…very scary to say the least.  Maybe I need to take up crocheting… again… for my anxiety.  My Grandmother, Mama Bea, tried to teach me years ago but she was left-handed and I was barely able to grasp a simple chain stitch…God love her she tried…I sure do miss that tiny, sweet woman.

As you can see Jaymi did a fantastic job and I love the striped hats, the texture on the blankets and all the different colors.  She lovingly attached tags that stated “In memory of Lauren Alston” and on the back is the Foundation website…so people can read about Lauren and what the foundation stands for.  Jaymi was able to make 48 hats and 8 blankets.  Lauren loved babies and I can just imagine how colorful the nursery is going to look with those precious babies in their new hats and blankets.  Thanks Jaymi…love you and your kind heart.

School Supplies in Guatemala

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Happy Students

In February we made a donation of school supplies to Long Way Home, a non-profit started by Matt/Mateo Paneitz.  Matt is a son of our friend Janet. She bought some school supplies locally, because they are better quality and more plentiful, and took them when she flew to attend the “ribbon cutting/dedication” celebration. Matt entered the Peace Corp in 2001, for 4 years,  and while in Guatemala saw a real need for a school.  He came back to the US and sold raffle tickets to the only thing he owned, a perfect condition vintage car, to raise money to start his non-profit.  I really encourage you to go to the website http://www.lwhome.org and read Matt’s story…but below is a portion of the information.

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Matt helping with the ribbon cutting.

Long Way Home began operations in the municipality of San Juan Comalapa, in the indigenous highlands of west-central Guatemala in 2004, with a grassroots community development strategy to bring local residents together to learn about eco-friendly living, appropriate sustainable technologies, and improved waste management solutions. Together with our neighbors, we built a community park, Parque Chimiyá, on five acres of rural land. The park features a tree nursery, terraced organic gardens, a regulation grass soccer field, a basketball court and a playground. Parque Chimiyá has a volunteer house for domestic and international volunteers and interns, a community kitchen and a pavilion for presentations, classes and other community events.  

At Parque Chimiyá, there is a small admission fee of US$0.25 for park users, but young children can bring recycled plastic bottles packed with inorganic trash in lieu of money. We use these “trash bottles” in our current construction projects. The youth response to the trash bottle program has been overwhelming. This campaign has already reduced municipal litter, introduced local families to a new waste management solution, and created a stream of building materials for Long Way Home’s construction projects. From 2008 through 2011, over 28,000 trash bottles were collected in lieu of park admission fees. In 2012, Long Way Home was pleased to return administration of the park to our local partner, Chuwi Tinamit, the organization that originally commissioned us to develop their property.

 In 2008, LWH purchased land in the village of Paxán, one half mile from Comalapa’s urban center, to build an elementary, middle and vocational school complex. Construction began in January of 2009 and will be finished in 2016. In 2012 Long Way Home welcomed its first 21 students in grades 2nd-5th. In 2013 we achieved official approval from the Guatemalan Ministry of Education and we have 118 students in grades K-8th in the 2016 academic year! Our teachers and Directora are all Comalapa natives.

 Environmental education will be a focus of the school’s enhanced curriculum. From organic gardening to environmentally friendly construction methods, local youth will be learning about the inextricable link between environmental health and physical well-being. In addition to the standard educational curriculum, the vocational school will offer coursework in carpentry, masonry, mechanics, electrical, welding and horticulture. The school will cultivate a new generation of entrepreneurs, uniquely skilled and equipped to lead their communities with innovative solutions for the future. Long Way Home’s role is to fund-raise for the project, construct the school, build school staff capacity, and oversee the new curriculum’s implementation.

As you can see they are teaching in more ways than a standard school classroom.  They are  impacting, reaching and teaching the whole community.  The school will soon go to the 12th grade.  They have completed 14 of the 18 building on campus.  Can you believe most of this was built with trash but it sure doesn’t look “trashy”…it is very artistic and beautiful.   Glass bottles as skylights, rammed earth and metal used tires as walls and steps, smashed aluminum cans as color and decor on the outside, trashed filled bottles line the roof and seams between tires and more.  Below are some of the pictures.

 

We are so glad to have helped in a small way.  I’m sure we will be supporting the school again sometime in the future.  I applaud Matt for the life changing impact he has made on the community and these children lives…job well done!

I haven’t forgotten

There are many things I haven’t forgotten…and that rings even more true with the 7 year anniversary of Lauren’s angel date approaching on March 7th.  As I have written before this time is hard for me…with our anniversary,  Taylor’s birthday and Lauren’s passing so close together.   But also what I haven’t forgotten is my blog.  I know it has been several months since I have written anything.  I have struggled with many things over the last few months…back issues for my son, anxiety and thyroid issues for myself, 6 months ago we moved and downsized again…and we hadn’t even dealt with all of our “stuff” from our first downsizing 6 years ago….all while in the midst of renovating, the “new to us” garden home, from top to bottom.  I have also struggled with no desire to write.  I haven’t forgotten her or you….and I do hope to get my “mojo” back soon.

I do want to tell you two things I’m going to write about very soon…two Love, Action, Faith scholarships we gave out recently.  And also one story now.  

On Christmas Eve I was sitting alone on the back patio, watching the sun sink in the sky and thinking about Lauren.  We now live one street over and almost behind a house we built about 20 years ago.  I was thinking about all of us in that home….decorating the kid’s rooms….our pets Bear and Max….the laughter and joy….Bryan building a jungle gym for the kids….Easter egg hunts…. Christmas trees and presents….lots of memories from our 7 years in that house.  I’m so close to that home I can see the roof through the trees and what I wouldn’t give to go back to that time in our lives…to see, love on and hug my young children…to have Lauren back.  Tears trickled down my face as the sun went down.  Bryan had been gone for hours, no doubt last-minute shopping as most men do, and I felt so alone….so sad to face another Christmas without Lauren….so forgotten….so not in the mood for this holiday.   When Bryan came home he had an envelope from our PO Box that we use for LAF mail.  It was the first time he had checked it in several weeks.  Inside the envelope was a card that read… “Just a little hello, sent with a lot of love.   Forever in our hearts, love y’all, Craig & Deann”.  My brother and sister-in-law had sent it a few weeks before but I got it on the day I needed it most.  The note was enough, it was a band-aid on my heart…she was not forgotten….neither was I.  It also had a bonus inside…a very generous donation to LAF.  When I called my brother to thank him I was crying so hard I could barely talk.  I know they don’t want recognition but I needed to tell the story of how deeply that touched my soul at the moment I needed it most…that’s what love will do for you.  Love you guys too.  

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My 35th HS Reunion

lufkin-panIt is hard to believe it has been 35 years since I graduated from Lufkin High School.  A lot has happened to me in those 35 years…mostly good things…married for 33 laughter filled years, 2 healthy children, lots of travel adventures, successful businesses, and more… but one terribly sad, hard, difficult thing…the loss of my daughter Lauren.

Her 10 year high school reunion was this year….and it brings up several memories.  I also graduated from Lufkin High School…in the Class of 1981.  Ten years ago for the celebration of our 25th graduation anniversary, the class decided to give out a college scholarship to a deserving LHS graduating senior.  Out of all those who applied, you guessed it, Lauren was picked as that student.  What a great honor for her and I was so proud for her to be chosen by my class…I was tickled pink about it…or should I say purple as that is one of our school colors.  I believe she lived up to that honor…she worked hard and graduated from SFA in the class of 2006, Cum Laude with a BS in Hospitality Management.   That is one of the proudest and most special memories I have of her.

Another memory is of a classmate of mine from the Class of 1981.  Her name was Jennifer Estes and she passed away in 1984, just 3 short years after our graduation.  She was a Business major at Sam Houston State University and had a car wreck on her way home one weekend.  At the time I remember thinking about how her life was cut short, how she would never get married and have children, how close she was to getting her degree, how her family must feel in dealing with the loss of their child and sister, the shockingly, unexpected, suddenness of her death…. and how do you go on with your life when you lose a child.  Jennifer was a Senior in college and just 21…so…was…Lauren.  I never imagined I would be in the same position as Jennifer’s Mom.

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We give out at least one $1000 scholarship each year through the Lufkin High School Alumni Association. You can look at pictures of past recipients under the heading of LAF Recipients: LHS.  We gave out the first scholarship just 2 months after Lauren’s passing and will continue for life.  We have a “To Donate Online” button in the headings of this site if you ever wish to help us continue that legacy.  Thank you… and Go Panthers.