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I'm watching the days go by on the calendar and I know that Thanksgiving is less than a week away. I don't even want to think about Christmas.

I was shopping for Thanksgiving dinner ingredients with my husband and making a menu list out loud.

"What do we need for stuffing?"

It sounds so small. It's a word - a simple side dish that he makes every year. It's his Grandmother's recipe, and it's fantastic.

It was also my mother's favorite thing to eat when we hosted Thanksgiving. He made a special pan just for her.

I instantly choked up, thinking that she wouldn't be standing in the kitchen picking at the turkey while he was cutting it. Or hassling him for taking too long to put it all on the table.

It's bothered me since then... I can't get the image out of my mind.

I came home from work on Tuesday a complete mess and had to calm myself down before I could explain to Tony why I was upset. When I did, he responded with something that made complete and total sense:


Don't get me wrong. I completely understand the value of having a family meal where everyone comes together and spends time being thankful for what they have and who they have to love. 

Last year, we were all together. 

When it comes to this particular instance however, I can't allow myself to get lost in who isn't here. I have to be thankful for the people that will be sitting around my table eating the delicious food prepared by my husband. 

My biggest dilemma is how to include Mom in our festivities. She was the glue and dammit, she should be here to eat her share of the stuffing. 

How do you include your lost loved ones in the holidays? 

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Getting Through It: The Holidays are Approaching



I am so excited to share these photos with you! I decided a few months ago to try my hand at cake smash shoots, and I'm hooked. Especially when you have little doll faced darlings like Miss Riley. She was so much fun to photograph! A good friend of mine has this gorgeous white piano in her living room and when we were discussing locations for this shoot, she suggested using it as the backdrop. I loved the idea - and I love how the photos turned out.

Riley was happy to play with the piano and didn't fuss a bit about the tutu or hat. When her hands hit the icing however, that was a different story. We tried to get her to play in it and make a huge mess, but she wasn't interested. It made for some great shots to capture how not into getting dirty she was and memories I know her Mom will cherish forever.

Check out the photo gallery below!



Check back soon for my next cake smash gallery! Thanks for reading!


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Riley Jean is One! Cake Smash Session




Six months ago, my mother was taken from me. It was completely unexpected and it upset the perfect balance that I thought I had.

It happened the day after my two year wedding anniversary. My phone rang just after 5 am, and my sister was in hysterics on the other end. She said "I need you to come to the hospital, they just took Mom in an ambulance. When she left here, she wasn't HERE." I told her to take a deep breath, and get herself to the hospital safely. I would meet her there shortly.

My husband and I got dressed and he insisted on driving. The hospital is about 15 minutes from our house, but the ride felt like it took hours. The whole way there, my heart was pounding. I was shaking. I kept replaying the last conversation I had with my mother, and tried to remember if I had told her that I loved her. It was how we ended every conversation we had on the phone. I was kicking myself for not taking her up on the offer to meet for dinner the night before. She mentioned it a few times leading up to our anniversary. She said she wanted to celebrate with us, that we just needed to let her know where and she would be there. Instead, we grocery shopped and went home without a lot of grandeur. I've spent 6 months thinking about that conversation, and wishing that I had not been so selfish.

When we arrived at the hospital, my uncle was outside. I had never seen him so upset. He was basically raised by my mother (as were her two sisters), and they were the best of friends. I hugged him, and we went inside. Walking through the doors of the emergency room was like walking into a time morph. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. We were told to wait in the "Family Waiting Room," and when I crossed the threshold of that doorway, I knew what was going to happen that day.

The doctor came in and explained that they had brought her back numerous times, and that he wanted us to see what they were doing to try and save her life. It sounded like an odd request to me, but the largest part of me wanted to make sure that Mom knew she wasn't alone.

The sight of my mother laying on a gurney with wires and tubes attached to her body is not one that I will ever forget. The sound of the heart monitor going from a beep pattern to a solid, steady hum still resonates with me. I hear everything when I close my eyes.

The nurse calling for assistance with the code. The doctor rushing in to perform the resuscitation.

Clear.

The sound her body made when it jumped on the gurney from the shock.

The sight of the nurses face when the defibrillator had to be used again, and then again before they were able to get a heartbeat.

The cool feeling of her hand while I held it and told her that she wasn't alone. We were there, and we loved her.

Her laying there, exposed to our entire family because they had cut her clothes off.

My grandmother, aunt, sister, husband and in-laws watching the events unfolding before our eyes in shock, because no one knew what to say or do.

Mom was the glue, she handled all of these situations with grace that none of us had. We had never had to before.

They finally called a cardiologist to assess her situation after 4 hours. He informed the family that we would have to authorize him to perform a procedure to attempt to clear the blockage in her heart. It was found that 99% of her heart on the left side was filled with plaque, and the heart attack was triggered when that plaque tried to move. All my life I was told to not use any extraordinary measures.

"If it comes to that, let me go." I remembered her saying those words to me clearly while my sister and I tried to make the decision.

I knew in my heart I wasn't going to be able to live with my decision if we didn't try absolutely everything. So we did. When the procedure was complete, the cardiologist informed us that he was able to get the stint into her heart, but that there was less than a 50% chance that it would allow her to survive.

My mother was tough, you see. She battled cancer when I was ten years old. She beat it. She had been through a lot in her life, and in the years preceding her death, she worked at least 6 days a week. I thought that if anyone could make it through that, she could. She had to. How could I be without her at 27 years old, and my sister only 22?

She was finally stable enough to be transferred to ICU. The family was told to sit in the waiting room until she was placed in a room. My sister, grandmother, uncle and I were called into a small room where the Intensive Care Doctor sat on a desk and told us to prepare ourselves. Her prognosis was not good, and there was a very large chance we would leave there that day without a member of our family. We were told to think about her wishes and how she would have wanted us to handle the situation. He then took us to her room, where the same team of nurses were busy fidgeting with machines I had never seen before.

My sister, grandmother and I stood around her bed and told her how much we loved her. We told her to not give up, to keep fighting. My grandmother leaned down to kiss her on her cheek, and then that sound came again. The slow, continuous beep that screamed that her heart had given up again. The last thing I remember seeing before the doctor ushered us into the hallway was the nurse, acting in heroics and jumping on my mother's chest to try and get her heart to beat again. The three of us stood in the corner holding each other, unable to stop crying long enough to let what was happening register. Outside of her room, the doctor informed my sister and I that it was time to make a decision.

At that point, the total number of times Mom's heart had been resuscitated that day was sixteen. Sixteen times she let go, and was brought back. With those odds, how do we tell them to stop? The rational side of me has seen enough medical drama television shows to know that when the brain is deprived of that much oxygen, there was a very strong chance that if they were able to revive her again and it stuck, she wouldn't be the same person. That we were in for a lifetime of her suffering miserably because we were selfish and told the doctors to keep fighting to keep her alive. She would be a vegetable, unable to enjoy life for what it was.

It was the hardest decision I've ever had to make. As soon as we instructed them to stop, I felt that I had killed her. Walking the hallway back to the ICU waiting room, I was barely able to keep upright. I rounded the corner in time to see my husband waiting for me, and I collapsed into his chest. The panic attack that followed was enough information to inform the now 8 people in the waiting room that yes, she was gone. There was no more torture in store for her that day. She had been called home, where she would be free to relax and see all that God had in store for the rest of us here on Earth.

The look on my mother's face was a peaceful one. She wasn't fighting, because she was finally able to rest. I listened to my family come in one by one and say their goodbyes; each of them telling her how much she meant to them.

My mother was one of the rare, good people in this world.

In her 54 years, she raised her brother and sisters while my grandmother was working. She provided a life for herself and me until I was 5 years old. She married a man that she loved with all of her heart, who took advantage of her and left her to suffer in silence for the last 5 years of her life. She gave birth to my sister, who was the second miracle she performed. She was once told that she would never have the opportunity to have children. Instead, she left us to live out her legacy.

She fed the neighborhood children throughout my childhood, and then my sisters. All of our friends loved coming to "Miss Sam's" house, because we had the good snacks and my Mother was the person they felt safe talking to.

Through the past six months, I have learned the strength of myself and of my marriage. I have realized the truly important thing in life is that you LIVE it. My Mother spent her final days working, and taking care of others. Her very last day on earth was spent making sure that my Grandmother was able to get her eye surgically repaired and that my Uncle completed his monthly grocery shopping trip.

I am in no way ready to live the rest of my days without her, but I am coping.

My mother was 27 when she gave birth to me, and I was 27 when I lost her.

I was given the gift of having her as my mother and best friend for exactly 1/2 of her days on earth.

As I sit here now, reflecting on the day that I lost her and the rough days, weeks, months and years that lie ahead, I am able to appreciate the time that I had with her. The memories we made, the life lessons she taught me, and the things I learned just by watching her and the way she lived her life.

There are more things to come, and I want to document those things to share with the world. If I can help just one person put the loss of their mother into perspective, it will be worth the pile of tissues I accumulate during the writing process.


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My Mother. Once my best friend, now and forever my angel.

Sorry, went a little overboard with the exclamation points there, but I am so excited! After 8 years, he finally decided to make it official. And I couldn’t be happier. Seriously. I am like over the moon, can’t eat, can’t sleep happy. It seems like I waited FOREVER for this day. I already feel like we’re married, but for some reason this just makes it so much more ‘official’. We’ve been talking about getting married for a couple of years now. I kind of already knew that he was the one for me. No one else could put up with us the way we do, that’s for sure. The way we support each other and the fact that we still have fun is what makes this worth while. We’re high school sweethearts. How often do you hear that now a days?
Want to hear how he did it? Of course you do! (Be prepared, I’m crying already.)
Last week, he announced that he actually wanted to do something for Valentine’s Day this year. The past two years we didn’t do anything ‘big’. His ankle surgery and money were a little pressing on our plans. So, after looking at a few local places we decided to go visit the Swamp. (For those non-Gator fans, that would be the University of Florida stadium in Gainesville, FL). We figured we would so some shopping, check out the stadium again before the renovations started and enjoy the day drama and Facebook free. (Fail. Couldn’t wait to announce our engagement on Facebook. Is it sad that that’s what the world has come to?!)
So yesterday, we dropped off the furry child at her Grandma’s, and we were off. It’s not too long of a trip. It was nice to just drive without any interruptions. Once we got to Gainesville, it took us (literally) 45 minutes to find a place to park. Leave it to us to visit a college campus in the middle of the semester.
As we’re walking, we find a Big Ass Fan that of course he wants installed in our garage immediately.
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We get to the top of the stadium steps, and I’m snapping pictures like I‘ve never seen the place before.
We walk all the way down to the bottom…
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He says, take pictures of the signs and the championship banners. So away my phone goes. Snap, Snap.
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Then he says ‘You might want to get some pictures of this too.’ At this very moment, my heart was in my throat. I was completely, utterly speechless. Then before I could get anything out other than ‘Oh my God’, the waterworks started. When he said ‘Will you marry me?”, it was all I could do to not sob like a bad soap opera actress. I kissed him without saying anything, and when I hugged him he said “You didn’t answer….” Of course my answer was yes!
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YAY!
So three hours of crying, lots of love from Facebook and from our families later, we continued our day shopping. We were supposed to go to a nice dinner before heading back, but that got screwed up because I got sick. Apparently with the beginnings of strep throat. Yay engagement day!
So now he’s standing over me, waiting for me to eat pizza so I can take my sickly self back to bed. I’m not arguing. We’ve got lots of planning to do. Not that I already haven’t been planning our wedding since day one. What girl doesn’t? Especially with Pinterest around?!
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HE PROPOSED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Last weekend, the boyfriend and I ventured to the west side of the Sunshine state with his parents. We were only going for a few days, due to Isaac heading to the Gulf. Just wanted to share some of the beautiful sights we saw while wandering around Treasure Island!

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We stayed at Sunset Vistas, which was right on the beach. Made for some awesome pictures off of the balcony.

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While the island was beautiful, there wasn’t a whole lot there to do. The closest restaurant that wasn’t a seafood place (we are slightly picky about food) was at least 30 minutes away. There were also way to many middle-aged men in speedos for my taste. No pictures to share of those – I spared you those nightmares. ;) The coolest part about the trip was finally seeing a legitimate sunset. It was on our bucket list for 2012. Here are a few of my favorite shots…

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There are tons more – mainly because I’m shutter happy. :) It was a great, relaxing weekend. I was more than ready to come home to our little Schnauzer, but I’m sort of sad that summer is almost over. The only up side is it’s almost boot weather!

Tune in later this week – I’m sharing a new casserole recipe!

- taryn leazah

Treasure Island Trip!

It’s Deep Fry-day!! For the month of May, I dragged out the trusty old Fry Daddy and tortured some Twinkies. Prior to this, I had never tasted a Twinkie. Hard to believe coming from a junk food kid, but it’s true. According to some good friends of ours Deep Fried Twinkies are extremely popular, so here we go!
All in all, it’s pretty simple:
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Start with mixing your pancake batter to the instructions on the box. I used the measurements using 1 cup of pancake batter, which was more than enough for the 4 Twinkies we did. Coat a Twinkie with the pancake batter on all sides. They’re spongy (go figure), so they’re kind of hard to work with if you let them sit in the bowl for too long.
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Drop the Twinkie in the hot grease. This is the easy part – let it brown on both sides and put it on a few paper towels to drain some of the grease. There is a lot!
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And there you have it!

Need some inspiration for next month! Any ideas??

--- taryn leazah

Deep Fried Twinkies!

We just celebrated the bestie’s birthday this past week. Due to the fact that she wouldn’t tell me what she wanted, I decided to make her cupcakes. I LOVE CUPCAKES! They are the next best thing to a good paper sale! I think they’re more fun that just your standard cake… and so much easier to give as a gift! I did cupcakes for my mom’s 50th birthday instead of a cake, and I was trying to find the perfect cupcake topper. I didn’t want to buy a bunch of random “50"s (not to mention that of all the cupcakes we did, she probably would have killed us all if she saw all those reminders.) Love you mom! haha. 

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Anyway – while I was searching, I found this tutorial for making white chocolate letters, and it was SOO easy! I can’t remember where I found it. I just tried, so I can’t credit the source. All I can say is these people are pure genius!
Shopping list:
Wax paper
Printed letters
Candy melts
Icing bag with a fine tip
Here we go… It’s really simple. Print out your letters on a standard piece of printer paper. This way, you get the font you want. I used ‘smiley monster’, one of my favorites right now. Lay a piece of wax paper over the paper. Seeing the breeziness of this so far?
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Melt your candies. I love the Wilton’s Candy Melts – they melt really easily and they’re so easy to work with! My microwave is a little funky, so it took a few times to get this fluid enough to use. Put the candies in an icing bag, and put that on a microwave safe plate. This prevents the chocolate from melting all over the microwave – a mess you do not want! (Note: I always use two icing bags. It may be a waste, but when that chocolate comes out of the microwave, it’s a little warm. This shields your hands a little, while also making it easy to attach the icing tip.)
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Now comes the really easy part! Trace the letters on the wax paper.
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Simple, right? The best part is that if your hands get a little shaky (like mine always do), you can redo the letter as many times as you have space for! Once you’re satisfied with your letters, slide the sheet of wax paper on a cookie sheet and set it in the fridge. This lets the chocolate get nice and solid so it’s easier to place them on the cupcakes! 

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Now I was faced with the dilemma of keeping the cupcakes in one spot in the box. I didn’t want to have icing all over the inside of the box, so I had to come up with something. I measured the box I got from Michael’s, and figured I needed a base that was 12x12. I had a piece of foam board I used for an earlier project, so I used that and my little brain to come up with this idea:
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Not the prettiest thing, but once you put the cupcakes in the box, you can’t really see it. I laid out an empty  cupcake wrapper on the board and traced out my circles. I’m really particular about placement of things, so I made sure they were as even as possible. Traced the lines with an x-acto knife, and voila! Cupcake base!
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After decorating the outside of the ugly white box, I put all the cupcakes inside and here we go. Awesome birthday present for an awesome friend! The foam board kept all the cupcakes in one spot, and they survived the car trip with my crazy driving. Enough for me!

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I’m also going to sneak a picture of her card in here, since you all know this is my passion. I just recently got into using baker’s twine – I’m a little behind the ball, but I love this stuff! It completed this card!
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So to you bestie, happy, happy birthday!
 
-taryn leazah

Cuppy-Uppy-Up-Cake!

Hey guys – stopping in to wish you all a Happy Easter!

Just wanted to share the latest torture photo session with the little furry child.

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Enjoy your day with family! I’m headed to do some flea market shopping & have an afternoon barbecue with friends and family!

Taryn Leazah

Happy Hop Hop Day!