May 20, 2013
For two years I’ve gone on non-stop about my brother Randy. I’ve plastered my blog with photos of his handsome sweet mug. I’ve told you stories about him from our childhood right up through his last months of life. I’ve gone on and on about my brother because I loved and continue to love him and so sharing his life with you keeps his memory alive. I want my brother to be remembered by those who knew him, and I want him to be known by those of you who never had the chance to know him in life.
I’m also given to Randypaloozas for a reason that’s less about my brother and more about ALS, for as much as I want you to know Randy, I want you to know ALS. Long before I had a brother with ALS, I knew about ALS (in my head). I knew it was a horrible disease. I knew what it did. I knew it was fatal. I knew there was no cure and no way to slow it down. Before I had a brother with ALS, ALS was just another disease among so many diseases. Another hardship in a world of hardships. And yet as soon as I learned of my brother’s diagnosis I came to really know ALS (in my heart). I came not only to know what ALS meant for my brother and our family but for anyone and everyone who was facing the same reality. That’s why I share Randy with you, so that ALS can have a face, a voice, and a life for those who might not know anyone else who is living or has lived with ALS.
Randy was one face of ALS but over the past couple years I’ve been given the opportunity through The ALS Association to meet a number of equally awesome people who consider themselves “members of the greatest club that no one wants to join.”
Patty Belcher is one of those members.
Though I’ve probably spent more time in conversation with those pesky phone solicitors who keep promising to lower my interest rates while cleaning my carpets than I have with Patty, I can honestly tell you I love her. I love her because through my brother I came to see how it is to live with ALS and so when I witness someone with ALS living with joy and courage, love and compassion, humor and strength, I can’t help but be smitten and Patty has smitten me over and over again.
I have a ridiculous amount of warm and fuzzy fondness for Patty for another reason.
Patty is my sister Barb’s BFF.
These two. Two peas in a pod. Double trouble.
Less like Thelma and Louise, more like Mo and Larry.
They laugh together. Do girl talk together. Get their nails done together. Hit the open road together. And I suspect, with good reason, they plot and scheme together.
World, you have been warned.
Since I know Patty best through my sister, I wrangled Barb into asking Patty some questions so I could get to know her better and in getting to know her better I could in turn introduce Patty to all of you.
Patty and Jack have been married 46 years.
Over the years Jack and Patty enjoyed camping with their children when they were young and driving around the country to visit state parks along the way. Upon Jack’s retirement a few years ago they bought an RV so they could hit the open road once again but those retirement plans changed when Patty’s ALS diagnosis soon followed.
Along with being mom to their adult children; Michael, Denise, and Sandra, Patty loves being grandma to nine grandchildren . . .
. . . along with being reasonably over the moon in love with her great grandson Jayden . . .
. . . and the great granddaughter who will be breaking on the scene in September.
For thirteen years Patty worked at Providence Hospital in Portland, Oregon and had the good fortune of being one of those people who truly loved her job and co-workers. She’d still be working there today were it not for her ALS and the accompanying fatigue that made it impossible for her to continue to work.
Though ALS forced Patty to leave the work she loved, her colleagues from Providence Hospital have continued to stay connected with Patty including Christmas caroling at her home for the past two years.
Recent photographs would lead me to believe her co-workers have an equal love for cheesy head wear as they do for her. Blame it on Halloween and Christmas if you will but I’m beginning to see an alarming trend.
Patty’s so grateful that her former colleagues, along with others from her past, have come along with her into this transition in her life. Moments like these break through the isolation and loneliness that can come from living with ALS.
At the same time Patty’s grateful for the friendships made over the past several years with others in the ALS community. ” I don’t know what people did before ALS. I know them now. We share this disease. Friendship is born out of the disease. It feels like an elite family. Not everybody is going to like everybody but everyone cares about one another.”
Patty was diagnosed at the age of 62 on February 10, 2010. That year she was able to stand for photographs at the 2010 Walk to Defeat ALS event. Her team was Patty’s Angels.
Patty was in her wheelchair for the 2011 Walk to Defeat ALS event surrounded by some of her favorite people, her grandchildren.
And at last year’s 2012 Walk to Defeat ALS event Patty was there again, but this time wearing the neon green of Ran’s Fans and riding the three mile loop in memory of my brother. Okay, add that to the list of reasons why I love Patty.
ALS has taken a toll on Patty over the past few years.
From walking to limping to braces to a wheelchair. She needs help to get dressed, help to move in and out of her wheelchair, and help to do so many things that you and I did today without so much as a thought or a Thank you God. From the seemingly simple tasks of slipping into her pants or reaching for something out of reach from the confines of a wheelchair, Patty relies most on her husband Jack and her part-time caregiver Lupita. The one and only Lupita who took such sweet and skilled care of Randy.
Due to shaking in her hands Patty’s no longer able to hold a camera to take photos of her grandchildren and when regular utensils began to take too much of her strength to lift they were replaced with plastic utensils. Patty’s speech can become slightly slurred when she’s tired and her breathing is beginning to be affected. Patty lives with a feeding tube and a catheter.
And the important part of that last sentence is this; Patty lives. She is alive and she is living.
Patty is a beautiful woman, a loving mom and wife, and a beaming grandma.
And Patty is a fun and caring friend.
Just another reason to be envious of my sister.
So Sweet Hope Cookie peeps, this is Patty.
May 10, 2013
In March I was contacted by a woman named Laurie asking if I might consider donating cookies for a fundraiser she was helping put together for her friends Mike and Lori Meehan. Mike had been diagnosed in January with ALS and a group of his friends wanted to demonstrate their love and support for Mike in a tangible way by raising money to help in the purchase of a wheel-accessible van. I don’t know Mike, his wife Lori, his daughter Casey, his son Patrick or any of his friends but when it comes to ALS we’re family and so I said yes.
Over the last few weeks as I started planning the cookies for the fundraiser I came to learn a little more about Mike through my ever-exhaustive cookie research which means I kept hounding Laurie for more information. In snippets I learned that Mike had been an incredible athlete and that he looooved football in that way that’s completely beyond my realm of understanding. The players in their uniforms are awesome but the game itself . . . meh. Anyway, Mike was hardcore football and had played on his high school team before earning a four year scholarship to play at the University of Pittsburg. She told me Mike had been nicknamed “King D” by a group of 12 guys who’ve been friends since high school, the same guys who go on a golf trip every year they call “The Wiggin.” I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a secret handshake. Guys being guys and all.
When I read over the online event page for the fundraiser I was able to discover a little more on Mike, and yes, more about his love of football and how out of his passion for the game and his dedication to his community Mike became instrumental in starting up a youth football league in his local area and later went on to be a freshmen football coach at a nearby high school.
So while everything I know about football can be summed up in the phrase, “I don’t know anything about football,” I made up football-themed cookies for a guy who knows everything about the game with the hope they’ll raise a little money to help get Mike the equipment he needed to fulfill his dreams. The dreams shared by any father….to see his daughter walk across the stage when she graduates from St Xavier University and watch his son play football at Illinois State University.
Like father. Like son.
I also came to learn that as far as Mike’s friends are concerned “there’s not a friend, husband, and father more loving, loyal, caring, and generous than Mike.” Apparently I was making cookies to benefit one incredible man surrounded by a an equally loyal and loving circle of friends and family.
Yesterday with the cookies packaged and loaded in my car for the trip to the nearby UPS Store I realized that the one minor detail my exhaustive cookie research had failed to uncover was the address where I was to ship the cookies, so back inside the house I went to send off a message to Laurie and wait for her reply.
Laurie’s reply came within several hours and included the address along with the news that on Tuesday, only three days ago, Mike had passed away. And once again, another family, another circle of friends, and another community are left to grieve and remember the life of a man they were blessed to know and love.
Mike’s friends and family will still gather together next Friday night. The auction will go on as planned and the money raised, originally intended to help purchase a wheelchair-accessible van will now be given to help his wife cover the significant costs resulting from Mike’s extended medical care.
To make a donation to help in this worthwhile cause please go to “A Night for Mike.”
This is my favorite cookie in the batch, the one where Hope wins over ALS.
Because I know it will. No matter how long it takes, ALS will be defeated.
Until then, we hope and we fight and we remember.
May 10, 2013
I’m going to be blogging about cookies today which given the nature of this being a cookie blog seems appropriate enough but since it’s ALS Awareness Month it would be even better if I first invited you to hop on over to meet Cynthia and hear her story of hope. When Randy went to his first ALS Support Group, Cynthia was there. Randy was still walking at the time. Cynthia was already in a wheelchair having been diagnosed nearly three years earlier. She was a tremendous support and encouragement to Randy in his early days with ALS, and even though I was only able to attend a few meetings when I was in town Cynthia didn’t hesitate to pull me aside on one of those visits and say, “He can still walk but you need to encourage your brother to get moving on getting his wheel chair now. Don’t let him wait until he needs it.” Cynthia knew as do others living with ALS that if you wait until you need something before you order it, by the time it arrives you may no longer be able to use it. That’s how fast this disease can progress. So you don’t make plans for the future when you have ALS. You take action for the future. Procrastination doesn’t work well with a disease that’s always on the move.
Among my memories of Randy is watching him at those early ALS Support Groups when he could still stand and walk. There he is, leaning against the edge of the table top, his legs stretched out in front of him on the floor, talking and laughing with Cynthia and others in the group. Since Randy’s death in 2011 Cynthia’s ALS has continued to progress as ALS always does and while Cynthia is no longer able to speak she continues to have a powerful voice and a message of hope I don’t want you to miss. So go be inspired by Cynthia as my brother was and then come back here for cookie talk. I can wait.
Twenty years ago I traveled through the south with a friend and here are a few of the highlights I still remember: Sweet Potato Pie, Cheesy Grits, Buttery Grits, Fried Chicken, Fried Okra, Fried Green Tomatoes, Rice Pudding, Barbecue, Biscuits and Gravy, Hushpuppies, and Sweet Tea.
During my two weeks in the south I may or may not have been viewed some spectacular landscapes and explored sites of historical significance to the early days of the founding of our great nation but I don’t really remember. But the rice pudding, oh sweet creamy lemony buttery bliss.
That’s the background story so that you’ll know how excited I was to be asked to make cookies for a big Kentucky Derby bash by Tipsy Parson. No, Tipsy isn’t the name of a person although my spouse has already submitted the name into consideration for our next puppy. Next puppy? My quota for spouses and dogs is one per life time. Quota met. Book closed. She said to no one in particular. Anyway, back to Tipsy Parson. Tipsy is a restaurant in New York but not just any restaurant, it’s a southern restaurant. Having never been to New York I’ve never eaten at Tipsy Parson but I have drooled over their menu. They had me at Biscuit Sliders and Fried Pickles. Savor that thought for a moment. Fluffy southern biscuits with ham, pimento cheese and wait for it . . . habanero jelly and wait for it . . . BACON-bourbon jam. Mommy.
Give me a minute. I need a minute to re-focus.
Okay. I’m mentally and emotionally back though my taste buds remain lingering somewhere between warm biscuits and BACON-bourbon jam. Anyway, that’s why I was totally stoked about making cookies for Tipsy Parson’s Derby party. That and the sweet donation to The ALS Association, of course.
The good folks at Tipsy Parson requested 100 horse-head cookies and so I made these and if they look familiar that’s because they’re a glaze carbon-copy of the royal icing original created by Alison of Ali Bee’s Bake Shop.
When I asked Ali if I could replicate her cookies I promised to link to her blog and Facebook page as well as going on and on about how incredibly talented and amazing she is. She is. Incredibly talented and amazing I mean. And not only that but she’s adorable and as sweet as sugar. I’m just throwing that extra bit in should I want to further cookie-plagerize her work in the future. Always thinking ahead.
In addition to the horse-head cookies they ordered I decided to throw in a few extras because as the Founder, President, CEO, Head Baker, and Night Janitorial Staff at Sweet Hope Cookies I can do whatever I want. Along with the jockey shirts (another total rip-off from Ali) and jockey beanies . . .
I made a few of the 2013 Kentucky Derby logos, Derby roses and a couple horseshoes with glaze transfer swirl roses.
This was my first attempt at glaze transfers but as you’ll be able to soon see in upcoming posts it was just the beginning of something that has now spiraled out of control.
So there we go. A few jockey shirts and beanies, a dozen roses, a couple horseshoes, a few logos and 100 horse-head cookies. Oh wait. Let’s be clear. They weren’t horse-head cookies. They were horse-head cookie pops! As in pop a stick into a cookie, bake it, decorate it, package it and then ship it, all the while praying to the celestial gathering of cookie angels that the cookie pops arrive at their destination in one piece. Those of you who find yourself firmly located on the eating side of cookies go through your lives innocently unaware of the challenge of shipping cookie pops so enjoy your innocence while we who live on the cookie creation side of life pull out our hair one strand at a time while our cookie pops are being UPSed, USPSed, and Fed-Exed to their final destinations.
And that’s exactly what I did during the five days it took for the horse-head cookie pops to ship across country but on Day Five I received an email that was so beautiful I intend to set it to music as soon as I have the time. “Anita, I just opened one of the boxes of the most gorgeous cookies imaginable! I cannot wait to display them at our Kentucky Derby party on Saturday. The packaging is pristine and it looks like they made it through shipping like champs.” Pristine. I weep at the word. The only thing that could have made those words any sweeter is had the note ended with the tracking number for a shipment of biscuits and bacon-bourbon jam.
Didn’t they do an awesome job on the cookie display? Love it!
So for those who are of the opinion that a blog post title should have something to do with the content, here’s how I shipped the cookie pops from California to New York. In short, very very carefully but if you need more details, continue reading.
1. The boxes I used were 12x16x8 and so I cut heavy weight cardboard into 11×15 inch sheets to allow room on the sides for the bubble wrap. I then covered the cardboard sheets with wax paper and placed the cookies on top. I didn’t secure the sticks to the wax paper with tape out of concern that any shaking of the boxes might cause the cookies to break off the anchored sticks.
2. I sealed each cardboard sheet of cookie pops in 2 gallon ziploc bags. The cookies weren’t individually bagged at the request of Tipsy Parson.
3. I wrapped each bagged cookie sheet in bubble wrap three times in each direction.
4. I was able to place four bundles of cookies in each box. This was different than my standard way of shipping cookies which has the cookies standing up in the box to avoid the weight of the top cookies from crushing the bottom cookies. Due to the amount of bubble wrap I used with the cookie pops I reasoned there was more than enough cushioning to prevent that from happening.
5. To prevent the cookies from sliding in their bags I needed to limit as much movement in the box when shaken as possible which meant I needed to fill in any empty spaces in the box while avoiding putting excessive pressure on the cookies.
6. I placed several layers of bubble wrap over the top of the bundles and then using a metal spatula carefully pressed the ends of the bubble wrap down both sides of the box filling in the empty space. I could now shake the boxes without noticing any detectable movement.
There you have it. Shipping cookie pops.
May 4, 2013
On May 1st from East Coast to West Coast, in Puerto Rico, in Canada, in Australia, and the U.K., there were more than one hundred goodhearted, giving, compassionate, gracious, and I can’t help but believe extremely good-looking people spreading random acts of kindness all over the place!
And would you just look at this picture of these two adorable little chipmunks doing a random act of kindness with their mom in my brother’s memory (even while Tyler Florence leers at them from the sidelines). My heart could just explode!
I adore you. No seriously. I do. As I read through the comment section where you described your random acts of kindness I fell in love with your creativity, generosity and sweetness, and that you took my little dream to have 65 people do random acts of kindness in honor of my brother’s birthday so much to heart . . . it just undid me and I love you for it. I could go on and on until you blush from all the compliments even as you gag from all the sentimentality so let me just save you the red-face and the nausea by saying one final time, thank you.
Okay, just one more time. Thank you.
When I wasn’t checking my blog, my email, and my Facebook to see what you all were doing on May 1st I was working on my own random acts beginning with the 41 boxes of cookies from the everyone’s a winner cookie giveaway.
As it turned out I ended up with a few more boxes than 41 because when I went to fill each Starbucks reuseable-loseable coffee cup with 24 mini coffee bean cookies as planned, no matter how I arranged the cookies in the cups I could never get more than 15-16 cookies to fit inside. I tried everything but 15 or 16 was the most I could pack in without turning the cookies into crumbs. I was scratching my head trying to make sense of it all when I glanced over to my baking shelf and noticed a small oval cookie cutter on top of a piece of paper on which was scrawled “coffee bean cookies” in my handwriting. And then it came back to me that weeks earlier I’d put the small oval cookie cutter aside with the note so I’d be all ready to cut out 1200 cookies when May 1st rolled around and what a fine demonstration of my keen organizational skills that would have been had I only remembered the note with the cutter instead of grabbing another oval cookie cutter and a bigger one at that!
(Note to self: When planning ahead remember you planned ahead!)
At least this mistake ended up being a good one because with several hundred extra cookies I was able to send a big box to the staff of the The ALS Association, Oregon – SW Washington Chapter, another to the employees at the local UPS Store who regularly ship my cookies and the third box I took to my personal trainer with the idea that he might offer me a little random act of kindness in return by not making me do lunges and planks.
Anyway, after I finished my lunges and planks I headed over to the nearby Starbucks where I’d made arrangements in advance with the manager to treat as many customers as the money I’d put on a Starbucks card would allow. After each customer placed their order, instead of the barista taking their money, they handed them one of these cards . . .
What a blast I had sitting at one of the far tables watching as people stood ready with their money and Starbucks cards in hand only to be given the card. I sat and took it all in for about half an hour and when I knew the money was just about gone I went up to the counter and overheard a customer saying to the barista, “You mean someone is paying for me?” The barista answered, “Yes, they’re doing it as a way to encourage people to learn more about ALS” to which the woman replied “And that’s just what I intend to do!”
So it was a wonderful day, all of us today doing some random act of kindness for others.
And maybe just as much for ourselves.
May 1, 2013
Last year on Randy’s birthday I wrote everything I thought was important enough to say (and then some) and a year later after a whole lot of contemplative head-scratching I have nothing more to add and so I’m leaving this year’s post on Randy’s birthday for you to write.
Tell us a story. Tell us all about the random act of kindness you put out in the world today. We want the details. Come on. Don’t get all weirdly humble on us as though I’m suggest you snap your dollars in the air over your head before dropping them into the offering plate.
I didn’t invite you to participate in secret handshake top security acts of kindness but in the spill the beans and hold back nothing variety of random acts of kindness. By sharing your random acts of kindness you give us the gift of inspiring us and we can all use more of that warm and fuzzy human kindness stuff in our day. So go ahead. Tell us. Delight us. Warm us. Make us put our hands on our heart and sigh deeply.
But before I turn the post over to you I want to remind us all of the bigger picture that in addition to it being Randy’s birthday, today is the starting bell for ALS Awareness Month and here are some powerful stories of hope by those who have come to know ALS all too up close and personal.
One last thing . . .
Thank you again.
Okay, just one more and then I’m done.
I think I love you in a totally crushed out way.