Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Cookie Sheet: Gooey Butter Cookies

Friday Night Lights for us this week were not on a football field, a baseball field but a SOCCER Field! Watching my nieces play soccer was fun although I admit that I don't know much about the game of soccer other than you get a point for kicking the ball into the net! Right?

At the "last minute" I thought it might be nice to take the team a treat since they had a break between games so I did a quick search to find some cookie recipe that didn't require a trip to Publix. Found this one - Gooey Butter Cookies! It met all the criteria - 1) ingredients on hand, 2) easy and 3) quick!

Gooey Butter Cookies
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
8 oz.  block of cream cheese, softened
1 egg
1 t. vanilla
1 box yellow cake mix
1 cup of powdered sugar
Combine butter, cream cheese, egg and vanilla in a bowl and mix until light and fluffy. Stir in the dry cake mix until the dough becomes thick but smooth. Pour powdered sugar into a separate bowl and set aside. Scoop a spoonful of the cookie dough and roll into a ball, then dip in the powdered sugar until fully covered. Place cookie balls on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes.

It also passed the taste test and we deemed it a "keeper" and worthy of sharing with you! I used my
medium cookie scoop from Pampered Chef and it made nice size cookies. The powdered sugar tended to absorb into the dough so I sprinkled more powdered sugar over the cookies after I placed them on my beautiful crystal (actually Dollar General plastic) plate! Wrapped in cellophane and tied with gold and black ribbon for presentation to the Fort Payne Lady Wildcats Soccer Team!

Wearing our Black and Gold to support Madeline and Margaret!
Fun Friday night with our favorite soccer players!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Annie's Night to Shine

Payton (Annie's Buddy), Annie and Elle (Annie's Sister)

There are so many stories from "Night to Shine" 2017 that a book wouldn't hold them - at least, not one you could lift, anyway.  And that's just in Tuscaloosa! Multiple our stories times 375 locations, 75,000 guests and 150,000 volunteers and that's ALOT. Don't ask me to do the math-I just know it's ALOT.

Night to Shine is an "unforgettable prom night experience, centered on God's love, for people with special needs." I have to say "Night to Shine" is even more than this. It's all about God's love before, during and after the one night event. It has been one week and a day since our Annie was an honored guest at "Night to Shine" in Tuscaloosa and LOVE still abounds.

To quote a friend "This.Man's.Heart" Wow!

It was definitely a night we will never forget!

Just today, someone said to me - God gave him the vision and Tim Tebow acted on that vision.
Thank You, Tim!

Like I said already, God's love was shown more than just that one night! Let me share with you a few  of our stories. We were thrilled when we found out that Big Sandy Baptist Church would be hosting "Night to Shine" with the Tim Tebow Foundation! Big Sandy is close to us and we have friends who go to church there. As word got out, more and more people I ran into told me they had signed up to be a volunteer or a buddy! Simple as that. People just loving people!

Chick Fil A hosted a "Night to Shine" Night.  The Allen family doesn't need an excuse to go to Chick Fil A. It is a family favorite already! Didn't think I could like Chick Fil A any more. Just after placing my order, a sweet lady approaches me. I had told my Big Sandy friend that I would like to help with the prom. She had passed that along to Rhonda Walker, who was the prom "organizer". It was Rhonda who greeted me at Chick Fil A. We talked about the prom and her passion for the event and about my Annie being a guest. She had one prayer request - to pray about how to give the guests in wheelchairs the same experience as the limo riders, realizing that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for them to ride the limo.

The following morning, Annie's bus driver, Ms. Pat(as we call her), told me that she had signed up to volunteer at the prom. She also wanted to know if there would be any need at the prom for her bus. Her bus was equipped for 3 wheelchairs. Answered prayers! Rhonda contacted the Tuscaloosa County School System through Pat and the bus limo was created. Ms. Pat and Ms. Tammy would end up providing "limo" services to all the guests in wheelchairs. But that was not enough! The bus was decorated with balloon, stars, ribbons and special lighting to make it an amazing experience!

Ms. Pat even rolled out the red carpet on the bus!

Who knew a bus could look so fancy?

In that same conversation, Ms. Pat  told me that she would like to get Annie's dress for her. Long and some shade of blue was my only request. I gave her a size "range" because Annie had never worn such a dress. It was just the sweetest thing ever that she wanted to do this for Annie. Cue the happy tears! She also wanted to do Annie's make up and Ms. Tammy, her bus assistant, wanted to do her hair. Now I was sweet, but I'm not real sure just how much make up or hair doing Miss Annie would allow.

On Sunday, before the prom, Ms. Pat came by with some dresses. The one she wore was the only one she tried on. It was fabulous! No alterations needed except, of course, the hem. The dress was just perfect and so were the silver shoes! A fairly tale, for sure! One day that week, Annie came home from school with a book. She always has something (or two) in her hand and never a book, but there it was - Cinderella, of course!

Perfect shoes - just like a fairly tale!
In the weeks and days leading up to the prom, I prayed and prayed that Annie would have an awesome experience - that she would be happy and that we weren't involving her in this event just to make us happy. I talked to her about it a lot. If you don't know her....she is non verbal but she understands a lot more than she can express. She experiences joy and she gives joy! She has her own way of communicating.

It's the day of the prom. We check out of school at noon. Isn't that what other teenagers do on prom day? At school, I marvel at the Mom who is taking 5 of her children to the prom. "Last year these children were in an orphanage, tonight, they are going to the prom!" More answered prayers!

Ms. Pat, and then later Ms. Tammy, arrive for the make up and hair session. They remembered everything, even a beautiful rose and a personalized handerchief for Annie to hold in her hand. Annie goes everywhere with a blanket or two. She did not even take a blanket as she held that beautiful handkerchief instead. A blanket would have covered up that gorgeous dress. So, everything that I said Annie wouldn't do, she did! Ms. Pat applied foundation, eye shadow, blush, lip gloss and even mascara without a hitch! Annie was all smiles! Ms. Tammy did her hair with a beautiful crown comb and some bobby pins! She never even tried to take them out of her hair - I mean not all night! And we were able to protect that beautiful dress from injury by the wheelchair! More answered prayers!

The queen's make up session
A treasure! Ms. Pat thought of every detail!

So we leave from the prom and I've never seen a happier princess or 
Queen as she would later be crowned!

She knew it was a special night!
Entering the elementary school where "Night to Shine" was held, Annie was greeted by people she knew and many she didn't know by such sweet words and lots of "oohs" and "ahs". Then we met our new friend - Payton. Beautiful Payton had signed up to be a "buddy" for the night. She greeted Annie with the sweetest smile and away they went to the middle of the dance floor, never once showing any hesitancy in hanging out with Annie all night! A perfect match! I decided she must have been a Special Education major but no, Public Relations/Communications. She would later post on her Instagram account "Oh Annie girl you shine so bright! Wouldn't have wanted to spend my Friday night anywhere else". This was a college girl yall!

Welcome Party! Annie's "people" from school!

Payton and Annie posing for photos on the red carpet!
There were so many sweet moments but I will share a few. First of all, at dinner, Annie became a bit upset from some unknown reason. In a heartbeat, a sweet friend came over to tell her it was OK and that she loved her. Now that warmed this mother's heart! I didn't know the beautiful guest but apparently she and Annie rode the same bus at some point. She was Annie's true friend!

That's a true friend!
Another sweet moment was when Joey Pike stopped his "buddy", as she was pushing him on the dance floor, just to hang out with Annie. Then he took the handles of Annie's chair and they were "dancing" like everybody else. Annie and Joey don't know each other. I have known Joey since he was an infant. Joey is the inspiration for Eagle's Wings a non-profit agency that provides day habilitation services for adults with mild, moderate, and severe intellectual and physical disabilities.
Talk about God using our special children - Wow! Joey, whose life expectancy was about 2 years old, inspires people every day and on this night, he stole my heart as he made a new friend in Annie!

No words for how sweet this is.....

Annie has an amazing group of "typical" friends at Valley View, our church. Some of those girls were volunteers at night to shine and, of course, in teenage girl fashion, there were photos!

Sweet Matti!

Sweet Emily!
You know how, on prom night, groups meet and take group pictures? At least, around here, they do! So it just seemed fitting that our Sprayberry Stars should get together for a group photo. In that photo alone, are many beautiful stories! And behind all of them are families who were so happy for them having their Night to Shine! Our Stars shined brightly!

Annie's friends from school - our Sprayberry Stars!

Our sweet friend, Alex, actually got a "Promposal" delivered to her at school by her handsome date!

Alex and Gavin

In the days since "Night to Shine", it has been such a joy to see everyone's pictures, hear their stories and just smile as friends and family continue to comment on the photos from Annie's special night! The FB, Instagram and Twitter likes are too many to count! What really matters is how God's love shined before, during and after the event that was meant to show God's love to individuals with special needs. One Mom commented to me, "It just felt like Jesus". The hands and feet of Jesus were definitely busy! In the words of one of Annie's teachers, "this should be the norm"!

The Queen is Crowned!

Tim Tebow - for loving people with special needs
Tim Tebow Foundation - for sponsoring Night to Shine
Big Sandy Baptist Church - for sponsoring Night to Shine
Rhonda Walker - for having the Passion and Organization
Big Sandy Elementary School - for sharing your beautiful facility
Tuscaloosa County School System - for sharing your bus
Pat Bruner - for making a Queen and driving the Queen
Tammy Cook - for the Queen's hair and the fun bus ride
Elle Allen - for being there for her sister and being official photographer
Sprayberry Staff - for giving up off duty time to support your students
(Neal Guy, Jamie Evans, Traci Hollyhand, Diann Kearley)
Payton Cato - for being the best "buddy" anyone could ask for
Matti Morrow and Emily Watkins - for celebrating the night and volunteering your time
Joey Pike and Rebecca Walker - for being true friends
Chick Fil A - for donating food at the event
Publix - for the beautiful flower corsages
Every Buddy and Every Volunteer

and most of all
to God for blessing this very special night!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Friday Football Fare - Southwest Chicken Tortilla Pinwheels

Here is a savory treat for this weekend's games! These Southwest Chicken Tortilla Pinwheels were a hit at our house. Warning: they have a little "kick" to them, but they are really good. Of course, the jalapenos are optional.  The best thing about them is they are very easy.

Southwest Chicken Tortilla Pinwheels
1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese
3 T. sour cream
1 can Rotel tomatoes, slightly drained
½ t. minced garlic
½ t. seasoning salt
½ t. black pepper
1 C. shredded cheese
5 green onions, thinly sliced
Chopped jalapenos, to taste (Optional)
1 can chopped, cooked chicken, drained
5 large flour tortillas

Combine cream cheese, sour cream, diced tomatoes, garlic and seasonings. Stir in cheese, green onion, jalapeno and chicken. Divide mixture between the tortillas , spreading evenly, leaving a ½ inch border around the edge. Roll up tightly. Wrap pinwheels tightly in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator to chill for, at least, an hour or until ready to serve. Remove from refrigerator and slice into 2 inch pieces.

I saw a similar version of this recipe on "Tide and Tigers Today" this weekend and they used ham instead of chicken. That would work, too! Enjoy and may your team win this weekend!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Thankful Thursday - A New School for Annie

Rolling out the red carpet for our students on the first day of school!

On Thursday, August 11, 2016, the doors opened at the Sprayberry Center at Lloyd Wood Education Center for the first time. Sprayberry has been Annie's school since she turned 3 and transitioned from Early Intervention with Community Service Programs of West Alabama. While Sprayberry is technically a "center", it is Annie's school and always will be!

Sprayberry Regional Education Center opened it's doors in 1974, under the direction of Dr. Charles Sprayberry, to serve the special needs population in  Tuscaloosa and surrounding counties. Through the years, the population of students has changed and the needs are different than they were in 1974. Both the changing student population and the age of the building contributed to the need for a new facility to serve Annie and her fellow students.

There has been talk of a new facility for several years. The PTO committed a quite a while ago to not spending money on anything we could not move if and when we should ever get a new facility. I am thankful today for the leadership who made our dreams become a reality.

First of all, the last two principals who have served our students are men who truly care about our Sprayberry Stars! This initiative began under the leadership of John Barnacastle and was completed under the leadership of Neal Guy. For these guys, education is really all about the children. I am thankful for their dedication to serving our school. Incidentally, both of these men served our school previously, left for a period of time and came back to serve our Sprayberry Stars. I think that says a lot about our special students!

Less than a month after Dr. Elizabeth Swinford starting her job as Superintendent, a group of Sprayberry Staff met her for the first time at Nick's Kids Luncheon. We were all so anxious to move to a new facility (and we knew the former Lloyd Wood Middle School was available) that I was afraid we would bombard her with requests. Actually, it was Dr. Swinford who brought up the subject when she said, "I'm trying to get you guys moved to Lloyd Wood". For the first time, I felt like their was really hope that it would happen. I am thankful that Dr. Swinford saw the need immediately and had the vision for the beautiful new facility that now houses our special needs students. She was so excited when the Tuscaloosa County Commission approved sales tax funds to be used for the renovation and she shared that enthusiasm with our families. I am thankful to Dr. Walter Davie for seeing this project through to completion.

I am thankful to the Tuscaloosa County Board of Education, past and present for deciding to invest in our students. I am personally thankful to Mark Nelson, past chairman of the board, for answering every phone call, every text and every email and answering questions in the grocery line at Publix or at La Gran Fiesta. He assured me it was going to happen and it did! I am especially thankful to the board for including the beautiful handicapped accessible playground in the construction cost, allowing us to spend PTO funds to equip our sensory-motor rooms and provide therapy equipment.

Sprayberry has never been about the building to me. It is the amazing people that take care of, train, and educate our children every day! Now we have the building to match and for that, I am most thankful! I was quite overwhelmed when I walked into the building for the first time - it's bright, shiny, spacious, colorful,  and so much more than we dreamed! It will provide so many more opportunities for Annie and her friends! And I'm most thankful of all for the smiles on the faces of our staff and students, who really are what it's all about! I do believe the best is yet to come!

So, here's to the Sprayberry Center at Lloyd Wood Education Center - wishing you many blessings as you have so blessed the life of our Annie!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Pumpkin Season: Pumpkin Pie Crescents

If you are craving that awesome pumpkin pie flavor but you want to save the Pumpkin Pies for the holidays, here you go! A very quick and easy Pumpkin Pie Crescent!

Serve for breakfast, brunch, lunch or anytime treat with a cup of your favorite coffee!
By the way, if you like Pumpkin Spice coffee, New England Coffee makes it and it is a BOGO this week at Publix!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Red Bandanna - Remembering 9/11/01

Where were you on this day 15 years ago? I remember well that I was co-leading New Employee Orientation at DCH Regional Medical Center when some came in and told us the news. While I didn't have an active part in orientation at the time, I went back and forth to the PT department to keep up with the television reports and keep everyone posted. Disbelief and fear prevailed that this was happening in our country!

It will always be easy for me to remember how long ago this happened - it was the year my first child was born. She was almost 5 months old and all I could think about was what kind of country she was going to grow up in? I hurried home from work at the end of the day to hug her tightly and pray for our country - for her safety!

In 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the attack in New York City, Tom Renaldi of ESPN told this story of "The Man in The Red Bandanna". I ran across it again today. It is a beautiful story of a true servant who put others before himself and saved the lives of 12 people - a young guy named Welles Crowther, former Boston College athlete who worked in the 2nd tower. Listen to his story and be inspired by the heart of this young man!

As my friend, Gina, reminded me, 15 years ago today,
God was our refuge and strength and today he still is!

My reminder that God answered my prayers for this precious child that day!
Elle is 15 and loves NYC!
In 2015, Barry, Elle and I were able to visit the 911 Memorial in New York City and able to see, up close and personal, the area affected and the names of everyone who perished that day. Wish I had known to look for Welles Crowther - "The Man in the Red Bandanna"

The video begins and ends with the question "What would you do if it were your last hour?" and "Who would remember you?" Questions to ponder..... so, I pulled out a red bandanna, put it in place in my kitchen where I would see it every day and be reminded to make it all to count for something. It may not be saving lives as Welles did, but we call all do more for others.

"If this country could pull together and have compassion that is has every year on 9/11, this country could truly be wonderful in every aspect."...... Katie Toxey
Well said, my friend!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Friday Football Fare - Crimson White Cookies

It's almost Game Day - you're tailgating on campus, taking a road trip or watching games at home - here is a yummy cookie recipe for you to make. Typically, you see these cookies around Christmas but, who says we must wait for Christmas for these delicious soft batch cookies. They just so happen to include the colors of my team so I call them Crimson White Cookies. Everyone may not call them by that same name but everyone will call them good! See the link below for the recipe and listen when they say "do not over bake" - soft and chewy makes the best cookie! Enjoy!

from The Domestic Rebel