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.

 

 

Class Reunion

Lufkin High School Class of 2006

This year is the 10 year reunion for the Class of 2006…Lauren’s class.  I can’t help but wonder where she would be living…what she would be doing…would she go to the Reunion and see her classmates.  As friendly and outgoing as she was…I’m sure she would have gone to the reunion…to catch up with the classmates she lost touch with and see the friends she had stayed in contact with…to share the memories of the past and to hear of their future plans for life…  But… that is not to be.  Wonder if they will have a special table with pictures of those who have passed away since graduation?  Sadly, there will be 3 of those classmates, that I personally know them and/or their parents, who would be on that table….

Lauren Alston…Patrick Scott…Adam Culbertson

….gone but not forgotten… by many.  Not forgotten because these kids were outgoing, friendly, liked to laugh and joke around, “never met a stranger” kind of kids.  I’m sure the reunion will not be as much fun or as loud without them there…their laughter will not be ringing out in the crowd…their hugs will be missed.  I’m sure there will be a few tears…as some hear of their passing for the first time… tears as they share memories of those friends… but hopefully tears of joy, love and laughter as they remember the good times they had with their missing classmates.  I hope they will carry our kids in their hearts and try to live life to the fullest and spread love, joy, peace and laughter like our kids did.

I hope there aren’t more pictures on that table… but there probably is with such a large graduating class.  I pray for those families…for God to give them strength and grace to face their lives without their precious ones…to remember the fun, happy times with their child…to look at pictures of them and be able to smile…that for more days than not, the goodness and love of their child will outshine the sadness of their loss.  Prayers, Love and Hugs to you…from me.

** 9/29/2016*

 I was made aware of these students from the class of 2006.  Please pray for their families. Amanda Proctor,  Joy Wiseman,  Melissa Brown,  Megan Hairston,  JaCory Murphy,  Ben Bradford,  Jay Durham,  AJ Darks and  Martin Padierna.

Tears in the grocery store

I was in the cleaning aisle in the grocery store today.  I was looking at dishwasher detergents when a woman pulled her cart up beside me.  She was shopping and on her phone…she said, “Yes Mommy I am getting those for you and if you think of anything else call me back.  I love you Mommy.” To which I heard, “Thank you and I love you soooo much Honey” and I could really hear that love in her voice.  It really touched me deeply that this lady was in her mid to late 60’s and she is still calling her mother “Mommy”.  I assume her Mommy was in her late 80’s and what sweet music to her ears to still be called Mommy.  My eyes teared up hearing this sweet exchange between mother and daughter.

I still have this sticky note on my memo board that Lauren left me on 4/23/05…yes, she dated it on the back.  Yes, I’m still her Mommy.  And I love you soooo much Honey.

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Our Friend…Joe Lowery

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Photograph by Joe Lowery “Because I love you…”

I don’t even know how to start this post…

 I am so tired of death….

I know it comes for all of us at some point in our lives.  But we have had too many relatives and friends pass away in the last 6 years starting with Lauren.  Most of these are”young” people…friends of my kids in their early 20’s and those I still consider “young”…our friends in the 50-60 yr range.  With the average life span in the US being 78.74 years you expect or hope most of your family and friends to live to somewhere around that age or maybe even longer.  If you make it to around that age everyone considers that a “good, long, full life” or at least long enough to experience most things in life that you wanted to.  Our friends and family have left us from accidents, illness and cancer.  A few of them have been in that “long, full life” category and we are thankful to have had them that long.  It is expected that the “elders” will go before you…although scripture says “our days were numbered before we were even formed in the womb” and only He knows the number.  Of course loosing Lauren is the biggest, most painful loss but our hearts hurt only a bit less for the loss of our friends and other family members.  We are thankful that these friends and family knew Christ as their Savior and now reside with Him in Paradise.  But we sure miss them here on Earth…where we can have daily interaction with them…to laugh together…to share a meal…to hug each other.  I know I should be rejoicing that they now reside in a stunningly more beautiful place with no more pain, sorrow or tears.  But I am greedy and wanted them to be here longer with me.

Our friend Joe Lowery walked thru the pearly gates of Heaven on June 8th after a battle with cancer.   He was one of a kind…a man of faith, wonderful sense of humor, generous with his time and talents, an outstanding photographer with an eye for God’s beauty, a coffee lover, deep thinker, loyal friend to many, a hugger and just a sweet, kind soul who would laugh or cry with you whatever the situation warranted.

Joe called Bryan a week or so after Lauren’s service and invited him on a photography trip to the Hill Country for a few days.  Joe had asked him many times before but this was the first time Bryan went.  I told him to go with his friend…I knew he needed that time with Joe.  It is a 5 hour drive to get to that area and Joe had favorite locations for wildflowers that he checked out each year. So they spent more hours in the car driving through the countryside and small towns to reach those destinations.  Joe would get up real early to catch the sunrise for his pictures while Bryan slept in.  But they had plenty of time for deep, meaningful conversations about life and I will let those thoughts stay between them.   After Lauren’s death we started staying in the Hill Country, for 6 months at a time, in our RV and Joe would pop in on us thru the last 5-6 years.   We told him “his room” was ready when we bought a little bungalow in Fredericksburg last year…but Joe didn’t get to stay with us.  Oh and ask Bryan sometime about a hunting trip with Joe…where he loaned Bryan his gun…his bullets…and then cleaned the deer because Bryan isn’t really a hunter…lol.   Joe cared…about us and many others…that is just how he was.  In the program for his service this is a paragraph that really stands out for me. Joe was a peacemaker and the epitome of 1st Corinthians 13:4-7.  “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude.  Love bears all things, hopes all things and endures all things”.  We were all the beneficiaries of that love and generosity.  If he didn’t love you, he just had not met you!  Truer words have never been spoken.

29870_1397058099741_5465753_nJoe also graciously donated a picture for the first fundraiser we had just 3 months after Lauren passed away.  We met for lunch and he let me pick from half a dozen of his pictures.  I picked the beautiful picture above…the white church in a field of stunning wildflowers.  He said I thought you would pick that one.  He had it made and framed for auction.  I named the picture “Because I love you…. 

because God loved us he created this beauty for our pleasure… because of our love for Lauren we created LAF to continue her legacy of helping others…  because Joe loved us he generously donated this picture.

There was a bidding war and Joe said he would have a second one made if we both paid the last bid amount.  He helped us raise over $6000 with his generosity.

Bryan, Joe, Valena

Bryan, Joe and Valena Spradley

Joe was named by Texas Highways Magazine as one of their top 25 photographers of all time.  He was collected by many private and corporate collectors.  He was featured multiple times on the cover and inside Texas Highways and other magazines.  His photos appeared in calendars for Texas Highways, Sierra Club and Barnes and Nobles.  First Ladies, Lady Bird Johnson and Laura Bush sent notes of admiration for his Texas Wildflower pictures.  He would always say, “I just took the picture, God put on the display.”  We always enjoyed getting his Christmas cards with winter scenes and fitting scripture attached.

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Lauren loved sunrises and sunsets. This was taken on the last morning of Bryan and Joe’s trip.

After Lauren passed away Joe told Bryan, “You will never smile as big or laugh as loud.”  And those words are even more amplified with his passing.  

As you enjoy his works please pray for his wife, son, mother, brother and the rest of his family…biological and those he “adopted” into his familyhis friends.

These are a few of Joe’s photos I have.  Love you Joe…forever in our hearts.