All the Sun For You

A mom, two boys, a husband, and a whole lot of adventure!

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A Visit

This holiday has physically taken a toll on us. Hottie and I, since having Matthew, have a tradition of staying up late on Christmas eve to wrap ALL of the presents we’ve accumulated for the people in our lives – for the kids, for each other, for friends, and for family. We turn on, “Love Actually,” and get to work. This, of course, came after the huge dinner we hosted for his family, the one that had me up and in the kitchen at 7:00 that morning. My body was aching so badly by midnight that I had to keep sitting down to rest. We trudged on until 2:45 AM when everything was ready for big fun and surprises the next day!

Bryson woke up at 6:10 so we got only 3 hours of sleep on Christmas eve. We drove to Hottie’s folks’ for Christmas day and we were so tired coming home that Hottie almost pulled over to sleep, and the drive is only 45 minutes. Every last one of us was exhausted. We didn’t get to bed early on Christmas night, but when we did finally go to bed, we slept hard.

Bryson, God love him, was up at 6:00 and I volunteered to get him because Hottie was so sound asleep and I wasn’t waking him up. At 8:00, Hottie came down and I went back to sleep.

Something amazing happened (I need to write this out a bit so I don’t forget it).

Jenny visited me in my dream this morning. I woke up remembering everything, and quickly told Hottie through a stream of tears what had just happened, amazed by it.

We were standing together, hugging each other and crying. I knew she wasn’t alive and that it was just a brief visit from her. Her hair was longer and golden blonde like before the cancer struck (her hair was naturally that blonde) and she was full of life and color. I told her that I needed to tell her that I was sorry for our falling out right as they moved away, and she said she knew and that we were all under a lot of stress then (I was delivering Matthew in 10 days and they were moving out of their house). She also said that she appreciated all of our visits to KC after they moved because she was so worried our friendship would fade away once they moved. I told her that I knew she wasn’t physically there with me, but that I knew she could hear me, and then she said, “yes I can, and I heard everything you said to me as you sat with me after I’d gone.” And then, just like when my cat Lily visited me after she’d passed away, Jenny slowly faded out of my arms.

I woke up from her visit at 10:38. 2 weeks and 5 minutes after she passed away.

I know it was a dream, but I also know in my soul that it was more than”just a dream.”

I feel so much peace.


The How-To Guide on the Christmas Eve Cake

We had a huge family Christmas Eve dinner at our home again this year after a successful run at it for the first time last year.  I think we are making a tradition of this, which thrills me!  We love making big, multi-course dinners for a lot of people and don’t get the chance to do it very often at all (like in the old, no-kids days).  I have a terrific mother-in-law who would do anything for us and asks nothing of us, but last month, she asked me to make a white wedding cake as soon as possible.  She loves my white wedding cake (a recipe from  I wouldn’t normally make a white cake for Christmas dinner, but I love a challenge and I found the neatest cake in the world – it’s even called “Christmas Eve.”  So… I did it!

I was a little nervous about this – I’ve made a lot of cakes in my days but this one was entirely different.  I’m an amateur who just really likes decorating cakes – I don’t have real skills.  I’d spent so much time thinking about how I was going to make the cake that I felt like I was 25% done before I even really started.  I’d never lit a cake with lights before so that was my main challenge at the beginning, but I ordered some neat battery-operated “balloon lights” that ended up working out perfectly.

Here is the cake that I found online:

Here is the cake I ended up with:


I am still so excited that it worked out – I really didn’t expect it to turn out as well as it did.

A lot of people asked me how I planned to do this cake, so I took pictures along the way  🙂

My plan was to make the snowman, tree, windows/door, and snowflakes out of fondant well ahead of time, which I did end up doing.  I planned to bake and freeze the cakes (two very deep 10″ white cakes to make a 2-tier cake) a week ahead of time but ended up baking them just the day before show-time.  The bulk of the frosting and construction of the cake was planned to take place on Christmas Eve throughout the day, which is exactly what I did. I planned to use royal icing for the ice cycles, tree snow, and piping but I’ve never used royal icing and once the cake was looking pretty good, I decided not to chance it and just use buttercream.  That was a good decision.


Fondant snowman and pine tree were constructed.  Both were dusted with pearl dust to add depth and dimension.  I added buttercream icing to the tree for the snow on Christmas eve.

Fondant eve


I finished up my fondant work on the 8th!  I started with the snowflakes for the border between the white fondant and blue buttercream, and ended up cutting them ALL in the wrong color (blue).  When I realized the mistake, I was sort of relieved because I wasn’t crazy about how dark the blue came out.  I re-did them in white and had them done quite quickly because I’d already mastered the snowflake fondant cutter/press.


Then it was time to move onto the cabin pieces.  It took FOREVER to get the brown fondant dark enough, but it finally got there.  I used a precision fondant knife which really was just a food-safe exacto knife (waste of money) and cut the pieces very irregularly because I wanted it to look rustic.  I cut accent wood pieces to add depth and put them together, but was not happy with the final product.  It was too flat – it needed texture.  I found a small flat brush in my cake kit and dry-brushed brown gel dye onto the pieces.  They look MUCH better and very rustic!


When I gathered the mail on my way back into the house after picking Matthew up from school, I found my “balloon lights” in the mailbox.  HOORAY!  I’d been wondering if they’d be small enough to put behind the cabin walls to light the cake and I was so relieved to see that they would work PERFECTLY!

The next, and final step, was to figure out how to put “glass” in the windows.  I was going to buy rice paper but I just didn’t want to – I wanted to try making it.  I searched for videos on “how to make edible glass” and found a perfect tutorial.  The lights I got are a very bright cool white, which is too bright.  I need the glass to tone down the brightness and the video explained how to make a golden-colored glass.  I got to work with the boys and I LOVED the final product!



I baked up the cakes in the morning and let them cool, covered and on a cooling rack, all day.  I then popped them in the freezer for 20 minutes while I whipped up a batch of buttercream to do my “crumb coat,” which I almost NEVER do because I’m lazy.  Because it was critical for this cake to be smooth and presentable since the entire thing was not going to be covered in fondant, I opted for the crumb coat.  I put too much “cornflower blue” dye in the frosting and ended up with that darn dark blue again.  Oh well, it was just the crumb coat.  I first leveled the cakes and then stacked them with icing between them (obviously).  The next step was to cut out a section of the cake that would be put on top of the bigger piece.  Once done, I covered each section with a thin layer of frosting, put support sticks in the large cake where the smaller cake would be placed on top of it, and then put them in my cake box and in the fridge for overnight storage (buttercream should be kept cold).


I got to work at 10:00 AM when Hottie took the boys to a movie to give me space and time to do my work.  I so appreciated that!  I took the cakes out of the fridge to let them warm up a bit.  I started by making a double recipe of REAL buttercream icing ( and I split it in 1/4 white, and 3/4 for blue.  I did not like the blue that I made for the crumb coat and needed it much lighter, so I died it slowly.  This, however, made the icing too fluffy and airy – a problem but not a big one.  I covered both sections of the cake with a generous layer of ice blue buttercream, and the color was perfect!


Next, I cut out the sections where the lights would go behind the cabin fronts.  This was a little tricky – trial and error.  The lights could not have been more perfect for the job!  I tested out all of the cabin fronts to make sure they fit well, and they did.


The fondant was next.  I love rolling and playing with fondant – it truly calms my nerves like nothing else can.  I could roll fondant for hours.  The layer on the bottom tier was not to be perfect – it was to have sections out of it to reveal the blue buttercream underneath.  I just rolled a funky shaped, large piece of fondant and laid it on top.  I had to do minimal trimming of the fondant to reveal the blue icing.  The top-tier was completely covered in fondant.  Where the fondant didn’t meet seams correctly, I just patched it together.  I then, again, made sure that the cabin fronts still fit properly.  They did.


The next step was adding snowflakes all over the cake!  I used cake adhesive and they went on very easily.  I used the snowflakes to cover the fondant seam imperfections, which made the cake look even better!


The final hard part was putting the blue piping around the bases of the cakes.  It was made out of buttercream so as I squeezed the piping bags, the butter melted more and more.  I was in a rush to get it done without melting the frosting!  I added the silver beads and then we popped it in the fridge to harden up the buttercream piping.


The final steps were tossing the lights in, putting on the cabin fronts, piping the cabin fronts to the cake to seal up any seams, putting “snow” on the tree with buttercream, and putting the snowman, the green tree, and the twiggy tree on the cake.  I added a few more snowflakes and a bit of snow in the windows and icicles on the cabin and called it done!  It went back in the fridge until it was time for dessert.  When I pulled it out of the fridge, I was so happy to see all 4 lights still going (they were advertised to run for 8 hours, but I wasn’t chancing it)!  I sprinkled some sugar crystals on top of the whole thing for loose snow, and it looked beautiful!  I brought it up with the lights out and everyone LOVED it.


As the boys would say… Ta Da!

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Santa Was Here!

Santa arrived at 2:23 this morning, with a fire station, a solar system, walkie talkies, and a massive supply of tape and sponge brushes in tow. These are BIG surprises, because the only thing requested in that list was the set of walkie talkies. Matthew explained to us that Santa makes toys out of wood – not plastic – and that they aren’t bought at the store. So… That made it super fun for us to get creative.

Best Christmas so far by a long shot. Both boys are all in on the Santa thing!

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We had a sitter on Saturday night and headed to our new local brew and view to see the latest Star Wars movie.  I am not going to lie – I was so excited to wear my outfit that I’d bought for the movie.  I mean – CRAZY EXCITED!

So I was only 1-year-old when the original Star Wars movie came out (1977), but by the time the Empire Strikes Back came out, I was 4 years old and, I cannot believe this, but my dad took me to it shortly after its release.  I remember standing in line outside the theater and then sitting in the seat, staring up at the screen, and being scared to death of Darth Vader.  By the time Return of the Jedi came out in 1983, I was a Star Wars enthusiast.  My life seemed to revolve around network television airings of the movies and we watched them on VHS over and over and over again.  All three of us girls LOVED the entire franchise.

Episode VII, the Force Awakens, is the ultimate sequel to me.  I don’t think I’ve ever anticipated a movie’s release more than this one’s.  I remember being a kid and hearing rumors about when this movie would come out.  Then, they made episodes 1-3 and I only saw Episode I because it was so, so, so bad that I didn’t want to see the other 2 prequels.  People talked about Episode VII but I didn’t read into it.  It would come out when it came out.

I waited, literally, 33 years for this.  I know the rest of the world did too, but it’s amazing how different this is for me versus my little sister who is just 3 years younger than me. She missed the hype from Star Wars and Empire, and was really only into Jedi (because of the Ewoks) – so although she’s excited to see this movie, it’s just not the same for her.  Heck, it wasn’t the same for Hottie either, who is my sister’s age.  He loved Star Wars, but he has no memories of seeing the movies in the theaters like I do.  And I think that’s it for me – my very first movie memory EVER is seeing the Empire Strikes back at the Indian Hills theater in Omaha… and that experience included standing in line outside, being scared to death, and falling asleep.  HA!

I found different leggings – the ones I REALLY wanted but for half the price on Ebay, and I returned the purple ones to Kohl’s (I mean, really, why would I need two pair of Star Wars leggings?).  I was giddy putting them on.  Matthew was so excited to see them on me: “Mommy has Star Wars pants!  There’s Star Wars on Mommy’s pants.  HA!”  They were quite popular at the theater, as was my shirt (passed as vintage although it was a reproduction), and because of them, Hottie insisted I have my photo taken with the characters outside the theater.  I thought it was ridiculous, but I’m so glad I did it.  It was super fun, and I felt like a little kid again!

Star Wars

I may have shed a tiny tear when the theater went dark and STAR WARS flashed up on the screen.  Sometimes, especially in times like we’ve had lately, you just need to feel young again, and lose yourself in a movie that serves as a reminder that you did have a childhood that was, at times, magical and memorable.


Advent Ornament Project – December 20

I’m failing miserably at getting daily advent projects done – but we’ve got an every-other-day average going so I’m not going to stress about it.  The kids are still having a great holiday season, so who cares – right?  HA HA!

I found these cute little marshmallow skewers on William.s-Son.oma for way too much money and figured – what the hell – let’s make them.  They were super fun and so cute!  I should have bought regular marshmallows and not the stackers, but they still worked out and the kids thought they were awesome.  Once they were done, Hottie informed me we had no milk for hot cocoa… so the boys just ate them straight-up.  HA!

Advent 20



Advent Ornament Project – December 16 and 17

It feels like I’ve been missing the holiday spirit for a long time.  That’s probably because I have been.  Ever since getting that call a week ago, it’s been hard to focus on the fun stuff.  Our Advent projects came to a halt and we went into “fix-it mode.”  Well, we couldn’t fix it but we could make things a little easier, and that’s all I can expect in such a situation.

Now that things are settling down (for us, not them), it’s time to get back into the spirit.  It feels weird, but we have to do it for the boys.  I texted Hottie yesterday and said, “the holiday season returns to our house TONIGHT.”  I picked a super easy project for yesterday because I KNEW they would LOVE it.  It involved laser-cut wood ornaments in the shapes of race cars and trucks and… markers.  Slam dunk!  I even did a set  😉

Advent 16

Tonight, we trudged forward with making paint-filled ornaments for ourselves, family members, and Hottie’s work friends.  I did this project at Matthew’s preschool Christmas party today with TWENTY kids and it went perfectly!  I planned ahead and had the drying cups with names on them ready to go, the ornament tops removed and bagged (and then taped to each cup), drying instructions written up for each child, the paints unsealed and ready for use, and Hottie employed to help me.   It was so fun having Hottie there – he is so great with kids and with two of us helping the kids pick paints, shake them, and get excited about the end result – well – it was fun!

So much fun that I brought the boys home and we got to work on the GLASS ones for ourselves and loved ones.  They had a great time making specific ones for Grandma, Grandpa, and SANTA (yes, we are leaving one out for Santa) and when Hottie’s friend’s daughter came over to hang with us for the night, we made some for her parents too.  It was seriously fun!

Advent 17





It Gets Easier

I’m not going to lie, the last few days have been hard.  For as grateful as I am that Jenny is no longer suffering, I still can’t get over the shock of it – the shock of knowing that she doesn’t physically exist anymore.  I remember thinking this when my cat, Lily, died a year and a half ago, but it’s so very different when it’s a person, a friend, your age (or in my case, almost 5 years younger than me) dies.

I woke up in Kansas City in the dark hotel room and thought, “where am I?”  I then remembered, “oh yeah, Jenny died.”  I’ve had the same confusion every morning, but it’s lessened each morning and is becoming something that just is in my life.  It’s weird.

The first night home, I dreamt of Jenny all night.  I woke up to use the bathroom and went right back into a dream about her.  I got up with Bryson at 5:10 the next morning and rocked him in his room, falling asleep in the chair, and I dreamt about her immediately.  They weren’t good dreams.  I was glad to finally be up on Monday morning.

People have been posting photos of Jenny on her Facebook page, reminiscing and sharing good memories.  I’ve found peace in those posts and have, for two nights, gotten totally sucked in reading them.  It’s felt like if I was reading about her, that she was still here.  The photos have been so fun to see, but they aren’t my memories of her, which has been causing me a serious problem.

When I close my eyes at night, I think of her dead in that hospice bed.  I can’t see her as she was all those years that we spent, literally, every weekend together.  All I can see is her colorless face, closed eyes, dry teeth, and still chest.  If I’m not working out or doing something very involved with the boys, I am thinking of her… in that bed.  I’ve mentioned that I’ve never seen someone so soon after dying, before being made up by the funeral home.  I don’t know why I expected her to have more color and life in her when we walked in, but I did.  I know how this works, I’ve read, “The Embalming of Mr. Jones” (required reading in my high school death and dying class – it still haunts me) – I know that the body turns cold and blue and pale very quickly, but I just didn’t think it would happen to her.

Sort of like I didn’t think the cancer would kill her.

Imagine, every moment that your mind can wander off task, thinking of your dead friend lying in a hospice bed.  It has been exhausting, and upsetting.  Hottie and I talked last night about it and it’s not just me having this problem – he’s having the same challenge.  We have years and countless memories of the “funnest” times of our lives with Jenny and her husband, but we can’t shake that image of her in that damn hospice bed.

I’ve read that when you grieve, you tend to remember the person as you last saw them – usually sick and dying or dead in a casket – for quite a while before that image starts to fade.  I have wondered so many times over the last three days when that image will fade.  When will I remember her as she was when she was alive and full of life?

After looking at everyone else’s photos of Jenny of FB, I decided today to find ours.  We back up our photos to a server and also online, so finding pictures is not easy – we don’t do a good job of organizing them.  I was looking for some in particular and never did find them, but I found a folder that brought me some hope.  I’d planned a pretty special 30th birthday party for Hottie back in 2009, which was when we started our friendship with Jenny and her husband.  I remembered that we’d invited them, despite just having met them (we knew they were special and that we’d be lifelong friends if the opportunity allowed), and I furiously scoured the photos for a picture I knew we had of her.

I found it.  And I found another one too.

In the photos, she is wearing the coat she was wearing when we met her.  In the photos, she is the Jenny we met and fell in love with almost instantly.  In the photos, she is alive.

My memory of her in that hospice bed is fading.  I replaced my lock screen photo with one of the four of us, and that’s helping me a great deal.  When I think of her, I am seeing her bright eyes and shiny blonde hair.  I’m no longer grasping onto others’ memories, hoping they’ll help me cope.  I have my own memories for that… and now I have a picture.

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I Don’t Get It

I guess my dad and I are in one of those silent wars that he and my mom wage against you, without telling you.

What kind of a father doesn’t respond to his daughter’s email, and later text, about her friend dying? It’s been almost 36 hours since I sent my dad a text…. A man who sleeps with his phone… A man who expects a return text to everything he sends (including pictures of his cat)… A man who sends texts in the middle of the night to his kids….

I just don’t get it… and I hardly even care.


There is Comfort in Her Peace

Bryson woke up at 5:05 and I’d volunteered the night before to get up with him. I sprinted down the hallway and told him, as I held him to my chest, that it was too early to be up and that I needed him to snuggle with me in the chair. I say that most mornings and he usually mocks me, but this morning, he snuggled in for almost an hour.

When Bryson finally announced, at 5:55, that he was “all done I want to go downstairs,” I was satisfied. We headed downstairs and I got dressed to run on the treadmill while Bryson watched Blaze. It was a nice, easy run with few interruptions. At one point, though, my heart paused and my head said, “today is the day. If she isn’t gone already, she will be soon.”

I knew we wouldn’t make it in time.

I’d sent Jenny’s husband and dad a text about bringing lunch for everyone, and it took too long to hear back. I finally got a text that she’d passed about a half hour earlier. 10:33. I’ll never forget it.

Jenny’s husband then called and said that they would love lunch since no one had eaten, so we got that setup as we rolled into town. He then texted saying he had gone home, but to take the food to the family and then to come hang out with him. I was glad he wanted company.

I wasn’t sure how it was all going to go, but I was pretty nervous walking into hospice. We saw Jenny’s parents first and spent some time with them. They sent us to Jenny’s waiting area where the rest of the family was. Her sister was dressing her in something that she would have liked, not a hospital gown. What a great sister.

Jenny’s aunt asked if we wanted to see her. I really, really did want to see her. I was surprised by that reaction, but I almost couldn’t get up fast enough to go and sit with her. Hottie came with me and we sat with her for a bit. Death and dead bodies don’t really bother me – it’s the final phase of life that happens to us all. I was, though, a little afraid to see my dead friend.

My dead friend.

She looked wonderful. She looked peaceful. I immediately pulled up a chair, grabbed ahold of her hands, and started to talk to her. I talked for a long time, so long that Hottie left the room. No one else was waiting to see her just then, so I stayed with her, and I talked to her. Good god, I did a lot of talking. Every word out of my mouth felt more and more natural, and I felt more and more at peace.

I know Jenny’s dad came in to check on us, and he and I talked. We both talked to her. I think her mom came in, I’m not sure. I swear she did. A nurse came in and I learned first hand how hospice nurses know just what to say at just the right moment. I was terrified to leave her alone in that room, so I just stayed.

Eventually, I got up to see if I was keeping anyone from her. Hottie wanted to get to Ben, so we decided it was time to leave. We heard that she was being cremated tonight, so we took one final look at her, blew her a kiss, and left.

It felt wonderful to see Ben. He needed an open, honest, light conversation, and that’s what the three of us had. It was nice. He told us all about her final week and I am so glad I didn’t see Jenny like that. The last time we spoke, she was rather well and smiling. I’m glad that’s my last memory of her.

Their son woke up and they needed to get back to hospice to see Jenny one last time. Ben wanted to change clothes so we got E ready to go. Hugging him was like hugging his mom. It was hard to let go. As we all walked down the stairs together, Ben said, “let’s go see Mommy.”

My heart broke.

We lost a dear friend today. But our dear friend lost his wife. And a sweet 2 year old lost his mom. And a kind couple lost their first-born. And two younger sisters lost their oldest sister. Everybody lost someone very special today. Only Jenny gained. Jenny is at peace now, and as hard as it is for everyone left behind, there is comfort in her peace.

Fly free, Jenny! I love you.