Friday, February 28, 2014

Just the Average Mama Bear

I am having a hard time wrapping my mind around the date. A week from today begins the auction to benefit the St. Baldrick's Foundation. A week later, I'll be preparing for an intense new haircut. It's almost here and yet just last week it felt like a lifetime away. While Traci and are I scurrying about to get photos for the auction items collected and emails sent and updates posted, I must also stop to reflect on the past week or 2...especially in light of our new graphic:

When I emailed Kay and quite brazenly asked her to donate a design to represent our fundraising efforts, she not only accepted, but she exceeded every expectation I could even imagine. Without any real vision of what I wanted, I realized that this is exactly what I wanted. The simplicity in this design is genius - just 2 women joined by a passion. Yeah, yeah...we are super skinny and my belly shirt days are barely memorable (I actually prefer my avatar to reflect how I see myself, not necessarily how others see me. I see myself as a trendy, svelte, self-confident broad. This chick is all that and more)...but the idea that 2 average moms can join hands and hearts to bring awareness (and money) to a most worthy cause is a defining moment for me. I am one voice and Traci is one voice, but together we've moved almost 200 people to join the fan page and rally behind children and young adults who are battling or have battled cancer. We are not Angelina Jolie or Mother Theresa. We don't make grand speeches to standing room only crowds or plan elaborate galas with champagne (although I am certainly open to that for next year). We have a fan page and we know some people and some of those people are crafty.

I've been asked several times why. Pediatric cancer has not struck any of my children nor any children that I know personally. I found myself fumbling for the words to explain why, without reason or logic, I felt do this. But then our pastor preached to my heart this past Sunday. (And Blue, who I assume was controlled by divine intervention, managed to stay in the nursery without a meltdown for the entire sermon.)

Please allow me to drop some verse on you.

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring light to it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person's work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved - even though only as one escaping through the flames.
1 Corinthians 3:10-15

Each one of us is building on the foundation that has been laid and we can decide everyday to use hay or precious stones. We are building upon the day before and laying the groundwork for the next day. We are constructing side-by-side friends and family but also the janitor at our children's school, the bus driver who picks up the next door neighbor every morning, the city council member we see on local TV, the crew laying and repairing our roads, and the homeless population that camps around the downtown park. We are all united because we are all on this earth. Regardless of our race, religion, choice of spouse, political beliefs, philosophical beliefs, total lack of beliefs, we are all in this together, building upon a rock foundation. And I am one person who chooses one building material but if I choose hay, that will not support the person next to me who has chosen gold. If I use gold, it will reinforce whatever material another chooses, be it sand or silver. Perhaps my decision will influence another and those around me will trade in their wood for brick and diamonds and we will, together, construct a most magnificent temple atop our foundation.

And this is why. We are united, even when we feel alone, even when we discriminate against others. We support one another and brace one another and reinforce one another so that we may build a sturdy world. Not a sturdy America, a sturdy world. I don't always choose wisely, but I try. Everyday I get up and I try. And so to the parents and families and friends of children and young adults who have been diagnosed with cancer, I say to you "let me build your part for awhile. I promise to choose well. I promise it will stand strong against the wind and will remain for years to come. You rest up for the battle. I've got this." That's why we fund research. That's why we shave our heads and donate all of our hair. That's why.

The Servant Song by Richard Gillard
We are pilgrims on the journey
We are brothers on the road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load

I will hold the Christ light for you
In the night time of your fear
I will hold my hand out to you
Speak the the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping
When you laugh, I’ll laugh with you
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we’ve seen this journey through.

 Cheers and be kind to one another. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I've Been Called Worse

Bag Lady
Basket Mama

Although, to be fair, I only hoard for documenting purposes. I haven't saved every movie ticket stub since high school, but I do have a pretty hefty stack of national parks brochures. name is Ally and I love bags. 

I love bags and totes and purses and anything with a zipper and 2 handles, really. Or even one handle. I especially love it if there are pantloads of pockets and pockets within pockets. I have been known to organize my things inside of a bag, inside of another bag, inside of another bag. I knew that I had met my soul mate when a box arrived from Neal had purchased a stack of organizing bags to put within a suitcase. Yes...bag-mates forever.

So, naturally, when a high school friend of mine opened her Thirty-One business a couple of years ago, I was intrigued. Bags. Cute bags. I immediately ordered a beach tote for my sister's birthday.
This is Thirty-One's Awesome Blossom tote with monogramming on the front. Lots of pockets, a keychain clip, and nice long handles for carrying.

And I had plans. Big plans. But then it was time to move...again...and we were just barely under our allowed weight per big-A Army so all of my bag-buying plans came to a screeching halt.

But now I can buy bags and benefit a worthy cause. A friend of Traci's (aptly also named Allison...we'll let it go that she spells it with that crazy "i" stuck in there) has opened a Thirty-One party to benefit St. Baldrick's Foundation via The Pixie Chicks! Proceeds will benefit our fundraising efforts through the end of February and into next month. I'm so over the moon, I'm going to have the most impossible time trying to pick one item. And since there is a different special each month (February's special is the Zip-Top Organizing Utility Tote in "Bold Bloom" for $10 when you spend $35. Plus monogramming is only $5.), I may have to pick up two items.

This is the Zip-Top Organizing Utility Tote:
7 pockets and a zipper. Yes, it's a good thing.

The best part about this bag is that there is a lot of pink, making it less likely that Neal will commandeer it at some point. It's so handy with all of the pockets that I can see him getting a bit drooly over it, but bursting blooms of pink may be just enough of a deterrent. This tote also comes in a lovely nautical print...
But this would find its way into his hot little hands in no time. 

So, what kind of fabulous can you find for around $35 in the Thirty-One catalog? (Because I know it's for a good cause...but I also know we just had Christmas and Valentine's Day and some AmExs are still kind of smokin'. Although, let me remind you that Mother's Day is literally just around the corner.) 
The Large Utility Tote 
 Approx. 11.75"H x 21.5"W x 10"D
There are about 10 color and pattern combinations to choose from, but I picked blue because this is the one I'll be buying. GO UK! My initials are going to be just gorgeous on this Big Blue bag. It's also collapsible for easy storage. We order our fruits and vegetables from a CSA called Bountiful Baskets and twice a month, I meet at the Lions Club hall in the neighboring town to pick up the week's delivery. I take a laundry basket. There are a couple of women there who use these totes to pick up their food. I hope they haven't noticed me staring and lusting. But I'm going to rectify that very soon. 

When I was pregnant and designing Blue's nursery, I knew there would be a need for baskets and bins and lots of hidden storage. The special that month was on the mini utility bin so I stocked up. 
Mini Utility Bin
 10”H x 8”W x 8”D
I have 3 of these and I can't believe how handy they've been in the last 2 years. Although I had "diapers" and "bath time" and "toys" embroidered on them, they are used throughout the house for many more purposes. Currently, the "diapers" bin holds the play food in his kitchen and the "bath time" bin stores all of the sentimental baby items we've picked up along the way. Blue can be a destructive force to anything with stitching, but these bins look just as good as the day they arrived. I love the new Black Cross Pop design (featured above) and it just proves that Thirty-One can produce bright, trendy patterns or more neutral, subtle prints...a little something for everyone.

Picnic Essentials
I'm completely intrigued by the new line of picnic accessories that Thirty-One has started offering. There's this Picnic Essentials bag, a Picnic Party Set ($60), a lawn blanket and wine tote ($58), and a larger picnic bag and small round tote ($75), but there are no descriptions on the product pages. If any of the Thirty-One consultants would like to comment on the size or design of these, please do so in the comments and I'll publish it ASAP. Basically, since our trip to Paris during Neal's last deployment, I've been thinking how lovely it would be to have a mid-week picnic dinner in the park a couple of times each month. Now that the weather is finally starting to warm and I've found a nature preserve right outside of the Ft. Knox gates, all I need is a picnic bag. Bingo! Have plastic plates, wine, and fried chicken...will travel!

When Traci posted the flier advertising the Thirty-One party, I saw several ladies comment on this little beauty:
Euro Straw Tote
Comes in coral or turquoise stripe

It features a tie closure, an interior zipper pocket, a lobster claw, and 2 interior flat pockets. And it is the perfect beach/pool bag for the summer. My most difficult decision will be trying to choose a color. This is probably my favorite Thirty-One product to date.

The last item on my current shopping list is the About Town blanket. It features waterproof nylon on one side and soft fleece on the other. It folds, fastens and can be toted around by the handle. I wish I had owned this when Shana, Blue and I were picnicking our way across NYC last summer. When the weather is warm, we often find ourselves popping a squat in parks, gardens, and nature preserves, but rarely do we have something to sit on...something to keep the ants from meandering up my shorts. This will be simply perfect.
About Town Blanket
Measures approx: 60”H x 38”W
So, that's my Thirty-One wish list as of right now. There are SO many more items to choose from, though...from key fobs and wristlets and stationary to weekender bags (some on wheels), purses, and thermal totes. The prices range from $5 to a couple hundred (I think the Weekender is $180) and it all benefits St. Baldrick's Foundation and their mission to cure pediatric cancer through innovative and effective research. I can't imagine a better reason to go shopping.

To peruse the party catalog or to treat yourself, go here. Give The Pixie Chicks a "like" on Facebook to stay informed of our fundraising goals, the online craft auction, and kids we are honoring. You can also donate through our St. Baldrick's team page.

Thank you for your support of our cause and for shopping with Thirty-One!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Shirley Temple Friday: Honoring Corinne

Although I always encourage pinning from my blog, I ask that you not pin images of the children that we are featuring during the St. Baldrick's blog posts. Thank you!

Traci and I have been quite busy...collecting the stories, photos, and videos of our young heroes. Although fundraising and head shaving is important to both of us, we first and foremost want to bring a face to pediatric cancer...or, as it is turning out, many faces.

Today, it is my honor and pleasure to introduce you to Corinne.
 Enjoying one of the best parts of winter - snowcream - as her hair is starting to grow back in.

HI, CORINNE!!!! Oh wait, Blue wants to wave hello, too!
He's being a lion this winter and he says "ROAR, Corinne! You are a lion, too!"

A little about Corinne...her favorite color is purple and she loves to play dress up, especially princesses. (Oh Corinne, you are my kind of girl!) She enjoys playing Disney games on her iPad and is creative, particularly when it comes to drawing and painting. Corinne is also the niece of a dear friend of mine from childhood. April, with permission from Corinne's parents, has been candid and generous in sharing the story of this brave and beautiful princess.
Corinne's Story:
On January 11, 2013, Corinne went to the hospital to have some pre-op lab work before placement of her second set of ear tubes on January 14.  She had battled frequent ear infections since birth.  Other than ear infections, nothing seemed abnormal with Corinne.  She was a feisty 3 year old and she was looking forward to her 4th birthday in March.

That afternoon, my sister-in-law, Emily, received a call from Corinne's doctor stating they needed to repeat Corinne's lab work.  It was somewhat irritating for them as it was a battle to get her blood the first time.  Emily took Corinne to have repeat lab work and not too long later they received the call that would change their lives.  They were told Corinne's labs remained abnormal and they were concerned she could have Cancer.  Jeremy and Emily were told to immediately take Corinne to Kosair's in Louisville for further evaluation.  They packed up and over the next four days Corinne went through a battery of tests, which included a bone marrow biopsy.  On January 15, 2013, they were told Corinne's biopsy indicated she had Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL).  It was the news we had all hoped would not be true.
Corinne singing Over the Rainbow during her initial admission at Kosair's. 
(Ally's note: To be very honest, when I watched this 30 second video, knowing what Corinne has been through since, it just took my breath away. What a heartbreaking, but beautiful moment.)

The next day, Corinne's treatment started.  A port was placed and over the next several weeks she received some intense chemotherapy.  The goal was to essentially wipe out her system and allow new, non-cancerous cells to develop.  The hope was her next bone marrow biopsy would show she was in remission. 
Approximately 30 days after she began chemotherapy, our prayers were answered.  A bone marrow biopsy indicated Corinne was in remission! This was great news, but it did not mean Corinne's treatment was over.  Another test that was performed on Corinne indicated she was at a higher risk for relapse then the doctor's would like.  Therefore despite the news of remission, it was determined Corinne would need ongoing chemotherapy and the chemotherapy would be very intense. 
Corinne playing with the Little People pirate ship (we know this pirate ship well as ours sits next to the rocker in Blue's nursery) during a recent stay at Kosair's.
Corinne is not scheduled to complete her chemotherapy regimen until sometime in June of 2015.  While she has done well, she has suffered some set backs due to infections, low blood counts and intermittent needs for blood transfusions.  However, she has remained her feisty self which has been a blessing.  
April also mentioned that Corinne has especially missed preschool and playing with her friends there. For a long time, the risk of infection was just too high for her to safely attend school. Birthday parties have been canceled and rescheduled because counts were too low and she missed holidays like Thanksgiving because she was hospitalized and not allowed to have visitors due to risk of infection. April pointed out that although it has been difficult for her brother and sister-in-law, it's even harder to explain these things to a child. I can't begin to imagine. Corinne is old enough to understand that she isn't allowed to go to school, but not old enough to fully comprehend WHY. She gained a diagnosis and lost a bit of her childhood innocence, as she learned at the ripe age of 4 that life isn't fair. As parents, we realize that our children must learn that difficult lesson at some point, but not before the start of kindergarten.

Thank you SO much to Corinne and her parents for allowing us to know your story and for sharing it with others. We will keep your family close in our thoughts and prayers in the weeks, months and years ahead. Now...who would like to say HELLO and send early Happy Birthday wishes to Corinne, our princess warrior?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Dear Neal, I'm Shaving My Head

When our first son was delivered 23 weeks prematurely, several things happened. Perhaps the most alarming was the way many moms and moms-to-be started pulling away from if our condition of miscarriage was catchy.

Oh, you're going over to the Miller's tonight? You should be careful...y'know they lost one. Don't drink their tap water.

And maybe it was just me being overly-sensitive to how people reacted to the news and how uncomfortable they felt around us afterward, but also I think it was a real thing that really happened and it's human nature.

It's the same way with "putting things out into the universe".  Oprah talks about it, but so does my biffy Shana. When you put your thoughts toward something, it perpetuates into something tangible...good or bad. Focused on losing your job at work? Do not be shocked when you get canned. Obsessed with the possibility that your spouse is cheating on you? Eventually there may be thongs that were never yours wedged between the couch cushions. If I say something horrible aloud like "well if Blue ever got diagnosed with leukemia", Shana does this spitting thing on her fingers. I think it's supposed to expel whatever evil spirits I've beckoned with my what if. But don't we, as parents, have to think of these things? My mother and my husband would say no...that there is no point in spending time and energy worrying about something that may never happen. One is a psychologist and one is a logistician, so...a little heavy on the left-brained side of things. But I a point.

But what IF Blue was diagnosed with leukemia? Where would we turn?

And that brings me to the first of many posts over the next 4 weeks about St. Baldrick's Foundation and their mission to cure pediatric cancer, one head shave at a time.

I first learned of St. Baldrick's as Neal, Blue and I were pacing the local community center, trying to decide if we truly wanted to pay $6 to enter an event called The Bucksnort Longhorn 18th Century Market Fair. (On the one hand, I would get to use the word bucksnort in a blog post at least a dozen times...on the other, we would be paying money to unleash our grabby, curious, energetic 18 month old into a 1000 square foot room full of swords, knives, rifles, and leather. Lots and lots of leather. We decided to pass.) On the main bulletin board was a small poster about the upcoming St. Baldrick's event. It mentioned pediatric cancer and head shaving. I concluded that this needed more in-depth research.

The mission behind St. Baldrick's is to help fill the funding gap in pediatric cancer research. Since adult cancer is more prevalent than pediatric cancer, it receives the majority of the money. If you combine all the types of pediatric cancer, they still only receive 4% of federal funding for cancer research. And yet, when a child dies of cancer, they are robbed of decades of life that they could have grown up, gotten married, had kids of their own and, yes, perhaps even cured cancer. When St. Baldrick's collects money from their head shaving events, it goes directly to cancer the research that has the very best chance of generating a cure.

So let's talk about the numbers to make it real:
  • More children are lost to cancer than any other disease in the US.
  • Before they turn 20, 1 in 300 boys and 1 in 333 girls will have cancer.
  • Worldwide, a child is diagnosed every 3 minutes.
  • Due to the research that St. Baldrick's has helped to fund, 85% of the kids diagnosed with Acute lymphoblastic leukema (ALL) will live. (Later this week we will meet Corinne, who is currently battling ALL.) 
  • Kids (infants, children, teens, and young adults) who are diagnosed with cancer are often given adult cancer treatments. But if you're a mom, you know for a fact that kids are not just mini-adults. 30% more kids would live if age-appropriate treatments were available. 
  • Although many adult cancers are diagnosed early, in 80% of the pediatric cases, the cancer has already spread and affected other areas of the body by the time it's diagnosed.
  • Even children who beat cancer will have medical issues later in life so much of the research that St. Baldrick's is funding focuses on preventing the lifelong damage that results from surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy given while young bodies and brains are just developing. 
Am I doing this to scare you? To make you play the what if game? To turn you into a complete hypochondriac where your children are concerned? No. (And for the record, I don't know that anyone is as much of a hypochondriac as I am when it comes to their offspring. I once spent 5 minutes awkwardly explaining the bowl movements of our son to a rather perplexed nurse.) I think it's important to not stick our collective heads in the sand and pretend like these numbers don't exist. I think we need to know that it can happen and that it might happen and that if it does, there is a foundation like St. Baldrick's that is helping in every way possible to speed up the discovery of a cure. And then we need to help the helper. And that brings me to this:

The main way St. Baldrick's raises money from mom and dads and kid-warriors like us is through head shaving events. Although it's quirky and provides a path for some of us to check off a bucket list item, it also shows pediatric patients who have lost their hair that they are not alone. They may have lost their hair but we are giving ours say that bald is beautiful and we've got the chrome dome to prove it. I've had several people offer to donate money so that I will not shave my head and while I appreciate the sentiment, I think it's important to remember the kids who weren't given a choice. I think it's important to teach our own children that there are other people in the world...people who are suffering and surviving and that we need to offer support and solidarity. You lost your hair and I'm going to shave mine and now you aren't alone anymore. We are in this together. We've got this. You and me. When the end of our time comes, it isn't about power or influence or's about relationships and how we behaved toward each other. That's the true indicator of a life well-lead. That's why I'm shaving my head and that's why I'm taking Blue with me. And, hopefully, we'll have a pocketful of money! 

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to introduce you to several kids in various stages of treatment and life after cancer. I invite you to read their stories. I know it's hard. Reading them in my email is hard. It feels like I'm making friends with cancer....inviting it in for tea and asking it to stay for supper. I feel like if I know too much...if I meet these kids and hear their stories and know their moms...if I let Blue around them, he'll catch it. And then it will be all my fault. If we are being honest, that is how this project could feel. But I'm choosing to embrace it differently. If we meet these kids and hear their stories, we find perspective and hope and encouragement. We find life being lived to the fullest between radiation and chemotherapy treatments. We find kids, just like Blue, who love pirate ships and Thomas the Train and tea parties. We find a network of amazing people who have been given difficult circumstances and are meeting each challenge head-on with faith and a smile. We find our heroes and that is definitely something I want to put out into the universe.

St. Baldrick's Shave for the Brave takes place here on March 15th. Between now and then, you can find me and Traci (AKA The Pixie Chicks) on Facebook, raising money through an online craft auction and various other out-of-the-box ways (I'm very seriously considering asking Neal to sing Cyndi Lauper while in an Uncle Sam costume when we reach the 1/2 way point of our $1000 goal. I think I can post that video straight from my phone.). Traci is a breast cancer survivor and has graciously agreed to shave her head, too....from her house 10 hours away. So, yeah...we are for real. We are looking for dolla bills y'all and you can send them here. Or make a little something crafty for the auction. We aren't picky, but we do want your help!