The Life of Jennifer Dawn: September 2016

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

DIY Projects to Try This Fall and Weekly Link Party

Yes, fall is here! Celebrate the season with these simple decor ideas that you can make yourself. Each of the ideas featured in this post require only a few supplies and are perfect for any DIYer--novice and expert alike! Which of these lovely fall projects would you like to make for your home? Why not try them all?! Oh, and don't forget to link up any crafts, recipes, and DIY projects that you've been working on in the links below.

1. Barnwood Pallet Sign / Crafts Unleashed
With just wood, stain, and paint, this lovely blogger created a simple sign perfect for celebrating the season!

2. Fall Planter / White House Crafts
Planters with mums abound during the fall months. Add a special touch to an otherwise plain planter with vinyl cutouts that welcome the season.

3. Easy Fabric Pumpkins / Raven Would...
I love real pumpkins, but I also love artificial ones that don't spoil. These white fabric pumpkins are perfect to decorate with year after year!

4. Shiplap Pumpkin / Shoppe No. 5
Pallets and pumpkins go together beautifully! What a stunning wall hanging for fall!

5. Glitter Pumpkins / The Life of Jennifer Dawn (right here!)
Add a little sparkle to artificial pumpkins with glitter and glue. You'll love how they add a little glitz to a room!

Now it's time for...

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Pumpkin Desserts and Treats & Weekly Link Party

It's pumpkin season! Pumpkin treats, anyone? This week's features are desserts and sweets perfect for fall with their flavors of pumpkin and spice. Grab that mixing bowl and enjoy stiffing up one of these delicious recipes in your own kitchen! The only question will be...which to make first.

1. Chocolate Pumpkin Cupcakes with Nutella Buttercream Frosting / My Name is Snickerdoodle for Lolly Jane
There are so many of my favorites in this recipe! Chocolate, pumpkin, and Nutella all come together to make these scrumptious cupcakes.

2. Chocolate Pumpkin Cheesecake / Simply Stacie
Take a look at this dessert--smooth, creamy pumpkin cheesecake with chocolate spilling over the sides. Yes, please!

3. Pumpkin Caramel Coffee Creamer / The Gracious Wife
Pumpkin is wonderful. Caramel adds a whole other delicious layer of flavor. Click on over to see how to make your own delicious creamer that'll give your morning cup of coffee a flavorful boost!

4. Baked Oatmeal with Pumpkin Pie Spice Syrup / Life Over C's
This recipe takes breakfast to a whole new level. What a warm, comforting treat this would be on a crisp, cool fall morning!

5. Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins / The Life of Jennifer Dawn (right here!)
These delicious muffins are easy to make and gushing with a decadent cream cheese filling inside.

Now it's time for...

Friday, September 16, 2016

DIY: Glitter Pumpkins for Fall

Happy pumpkin season! Today I'm sharing with you how to make cute glittered pumpkins for fall that you can decorate with year after year. Oh, and I'm going to show you my "secret" for cleaning through the mess when the crafty fun is all finished.
Carving real pumpkins is fantastic! We carve some every year with the kids, but I also LOVE decorating artificial pumpkins! They can be used over and over again and the work doesn't fell wasted when the pumpkin rots because these never do. Last year I made cute chalkboard pumpkins. This year, I decided to break out the glitter!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Stuffed Pasta Shells

These Stuffed Pasta Shells made with RAGÚ® Homestyle sauce are an easy and hearty meal to prepare for your family.
Years ago my mom and sister complied some of our family's favorite recipes into a cookbook. This is one that made the book! It was a recipe given to my mom from a friend who being married into an Italian family has mastered the art of Italian cooking. My mom's friend may not call herself a "master" but anyone who makes their own pasta noodles from scratch is a master in my book. Don't worry. You won't have to make your own noddles for this recipe though. I use boxed noodles and one of the Homestyle Thick and Hearty Sauces from RAGÚ® that is so thick it seems to hug every noodle. I've also made a few slight adjustments to the original recipe with some ingredient substitutions and my own tips and tricks in the directions.

When preparing this recipe, I use any broken or extra noodles with some of the RAGÚ® Homestyle sauce to make a plate for my youngest who has a severe dairy allergy. This provides him with a dairy-free meal and he's still able to enjoy pasta--one of his favorites--with the rest of the family. That is one of the many things I love about the RAGÚ® Homestyle sauces. With the exception of the one sauce with cheese, they are milk-free which means my little guy can enjoy them too!
Want to know the best part about this recipe? It is a great make-ahead meal. You can prepare it the night before or in the morning and put it in the refrigerator until you're ready to bake it in the oven for dinner. I made this batch earlier in the day and then popped it in the oven after we got back from taking my daughter to dance class that evening. If you plan on enjoying it more than a day in the future, it also makes a delicious freezer meal. Prepare it in a tray and cover the dish with foil and freezer wrap to bake at a later time. Thaw it in the refrigerator and bake it when you're ready to enjoy. It's that easy!

From our family cookbook to yours, here's a delicious recipe for stuffed pasta shells that's sure to be a BIG hit with your family at dinner!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Creative DIY Projects for Fall & Weekly Link Party

I know the first official day of fall isn't until September 22. As soon as I tasted my first pumpkin spice latte of the season and the Dollar Spot at Target busted out it's autumn goodies, it already started to feel like fall though. My family has had a horrific summer, and it's left me feeling like I just need this summer to end. I pray that next summer will be better, but for now...bring on fall!

This was my sister's favorite time of year and I frequently helped her decorate. I plan on filling my own home this year with loads of fall goodness in her honor. I've already stocked up new fall decor items and started a few crafty fall projects.

Need some inspiration for your own home? The posts featured below have given me loads of inspiration for fall decorating. They are stunning and simple--my favorite combination! Which would you love to try for your home?
1. Placemat Pillows / Wonderfully Made by Leslie
Remember how I mentioned Target's Dollar Spot earlier? Well, I saw these Grateful placemats and almost bought a bunch. I felt like they would make my fall tablescape too busy and ended up passing on them. Leslie had the perfect idea for them though--turn them into fall pillows. Brilliant! Looks like I'll be taking another trip to Target soon.

2. Metallic Fall Jars / The Country Chic Cottage
These bright red and gold jars are perfect for fall! Oh, and I love the idea of placing wheat stems inside.

3. Fall Wreath / Anika's DIY Life
How cute is this wreath?! Can you believe that it took only 4 minutes and $10 worth of supplies to make. Be sure to visit Anika's blog to see a video tutorial on how it was all put together.

4. Outdoor Metal Pumpkins / The Navage Patch
I love a good Pottery Barn Inspired project. Why spend a huge amount on something that you can just make yourself and have fun doing it?! I think these galvanized metal pumpkins turned out even better than the ones that inspired them.
Now it's time for...

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

DIY Decor for a Girl's Bedroom & Weekly Link Party

It always amazes me the impact that adding a few new pieces to a room can have. I especially love decorating with handmade pieces like when I made this wreath to hang on a tobacco basket above our mantle. Decor items that you've painted, made, or even sewn yourself are what give a room life and character. Here are some DIY Decor Ideas for a Girl's Room. They're some of my favorite things--the color pink, vintage-inspired pieces, and sewing--all in one round-up. And let's face it...after I poured my heart out on the blog yesterday, I think we could use some happy, girly decor! Which of these DIY ideas would you want to try for your home?
1. Shelf Makover / Anika's DIY Life
You just have to click over to see the before pictures on this shelf! It's amazing what chalk paint and stencils can do. Do you have a furniture piece that could use some TLC?

2. Cedar Name Plaque / That's My Letter for Lolly Jane Blog
Here's a beautiful "take" on pallet art! The possibilities are endless with this DIY idea!

3. Fox Fabric Art / Love Create Celebrate
How cute are these! Visit the link above for a video on how to make these cute wall hangings with fabric and a canvas.

4. Vintage Window Dry Erase Board / Making it in the Mountains for Lolly Jane Blog
There are so many things you can do with a vintage window pane. This idea for turning one into a decorative and functional dry erase board is fantastic!

5. Pinwheel Quilt / Kiku Corner
Quilts are timeless! This pastel, patterned quilt would look beautiful in a nursery or child's room. It would even make a beautiful gift!
Now it's time for...

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

My Sister

I had another dream about her last night. We were kids again--running through a field of flowers near an old barn we used to go off to with all the neighborhood kids. (sigh) Yes, I remember that old barn. Some of the boys would try to scare us with stories about it being spooky. My sister and I had always thought it was just a pretty place to play and pick flowers. And it was! In the spring, a sprinkling of daffodils sprouted throughout the field. Bright and new, they stood in stark contrast to the worn wood of that old barn. By the time summer came, the grasses and wildflowers were waist high. It was quiet there--the only interruption being the call of a bird or kids like us trespassing upon it's solitude.
Enough on the barn though...I was telling you about the dream. There we were cutting through the field--parting back the overgrown weeds and flowers. My sister's blonde curls were bouncing behind her as we ran. Even in the haze of my slumber, those curls stood out--beautiful and vivid. They are the same curls that my own daughter has been blessed with. My sister and daughter even jokingly called themselves hair twins. Allison was always better at doing my daughter's hair than I was. She made it look so cute because it was like styling her own.

Back to the dream though. Yes, the dream... I keep getting off track. Memories have a way of doing that. One thing reminds you of another which reminds you of another...and at some point you find yourself so lost in them you forget what brought you to that particular thought in the first place. My mind has been winding down many memories lately.

There we were--in my dream--running out into the field. She turned to smile at me with her blonde curls swirling around behind her head. She had an infectious smile--even when she was little. It was as if her whole face laughed when she smiled. We crashed to the ground into a pile of girlish giggles and laughs. I felt a longing in my heart to linger there. Right there...beside my sweet sister. And so we remained for hours weaving daisy stems together into crowns. Or was it only minutes? After all, it was just a dream--a memory that I had lost myself in during my sleep.
And then it ended. My daughter climbing into bed next to me roused me from my restless sleep. As the dream fades and the shadows throughout the darkened room come into focus, I'm forced to sort through the same questions I've been sorting through for three months now...

Is she really gone?
Maybe none of it really happened?
Was the hospital all just a nightmare?
Did I really lose her?

Tears begin to well up in the corners of my eyes. The answers to those questions are almost too painful to bear. Almost. I'm not bearing them alone though.

"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10
The Bible is filled with promises that I'm not facing this alone. God is with me. And I feel him. He's in the midst of the prayers of the thousands who read our story. He's the whisper at the end of my own prayers. I let out a breath that I didn't even realize I was holding, say a quick prayer for strength, kiss my daughter, and force myself out of bed.

The longer I'm up, the more the gravity of our situation has time to pull me down. Yes. The field of flowers was the dream. The nightmare from the hospital and its aftereffect are our new reality. You many it was just a sad story. Perhaps the saddest they had ever read, heard, or witnessed. For us, it's not just a story though. It's our life. And hers has ended. I have to remind my youngest son daily when he asks for her or announces, "It otay, momma, we can find Ah-son," that Allison is in heaven with her baby and my dad. That is our reality. Within a short period of time, I've had to say goodbye to my dad, my 29 year-old sister, and her unborn baby, Oliver James. I know they wouldn't want to come back to this earth now that they have witnessed the beauty of heaven, but my heart is heavy from the loss.

"You'll always have each other. Friends will come and go, but you'll always have each other." I can still hear my mom and dad saying those words. I believed those words. Having been blessed with an incredibly tight-knit family, a life spent without my only sibling never even crossed my mind. Life has an unpredictable rhythm to it though. We are never guaranteed a single moment more with the ones we love--at least not on this side of heaven.

Sweet friends, I know I haven't told you the story yet. If you follow along on social media, you probably read some of what happened back in May. I've tried to keep the blog running with recipes, crafts, and happiness though. Business as usual. I haven't known how to share this ugly, dark part of my life with you. I've been processing everything. I'm still processing everything. I debated on whether to post anything at all. It would be so easy to just keep putting up crafts and recipes and never mention the grief and depression I've been walking through. That would feel like a lie though. And I want to be real and raw with you. I even want to encourage you if you're also walking through a dark valley. So here it is...

Over the last few months, I've been grieving the loss of my younger sister. There hasn't been a day to go by that I haven't cried for her. I even have dreams about her. Sometimes it's moments from our childhood. Other times it's the nightmare from the hospital that floods my sleep. Before I tell you about that, I should probably go back a few years and share another story.

In May 2012, my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He fought a hard battle for five months, but just days before my sister's wedding...things took a bad turn. Allison had already moved her wedding date up once to ensure that our dad would be there for the BIG day. On the day before the wedding, she made the selfless decision to move the wedding to the hospital where my dad was in the ICU.

It would take me hours to fully tell you about the days surrounding my sister and brother-in-law's hospital wedding. I'm not even sure my words would be enough. I do want to tell you about one part though--the walk down the aisle. My dad hardly had the power to stand. Yet, somehow he mustered enough strength to walk my sister down the aisle. It was a testament of his love. He was holding on tremendously hard to life so he could walk his baby girl down the aisle and give her away to the man of her dreams. There wasn't a dry eye in the place. That that hospital courtyard, we witnessed a miracle and we all knew it. It was the miracle of love and God's sustaining power.

I wrote this post from my dad's hospital room just hours before he passed into the arms of Jesus. Then this post was all I could manage to type after he passed away just days after walking my sister down the aisle. This one came a few days later as I was processing the loss. My sister shared some words and thoughts on her blog too. Two years later, I wrote about Mothering Through Grief. Oh, and the belated wedding toast to my sister and her husband... Sorry for the links, but I just feel like the words my sister and I wrote then tell the story better. Those words reveal what we were feeling and facing in those moments.

If you who prefer to not click through all of that, I'll give you a summary. Our hearts were hurting and broken, but with God's presence and strength, we were making it. Minute by minute. Day by day. It was a great loss to our family, and we still feel his absence daily. I've often described the timeline as our own BC and AD--Before daddy's Cancer and After his Death. How much our lives have changed without him! But slowly we were finding comfort from God, solace in each other, and peace in the midst of the loss. I thought life was settling down for us into some sort of "new normal." I had hoped that was the case. But then everything changed again...


"Mommy, look what we're wearing! Look at us!" I'll never forget the day that the kids came running into the laundry room after my sister had taken them off to another part of the house for a little surprise. They came bounding back in wearing gray t-shirts with adorable pink, blue, and green pigs on them and the words "Cousin Pig" across the fronts. Tears of joy welled up in my eyes! My sister and her husband had been trying for awhile to have a baby. Leave it to my sister to find such a cute way to surprise us with the news that my kids were going to be cousins and I was going to be an aunt.

Everyone was so happy about this new life coming into our tight-knit group. Daddy would have been happy too. There was so much joy! How could we know that it would all end so suddenly?

When Allison first caught a stomach bug from students in her kindergarten class, I didn't feel overly concerned. I mean...I knew how awful that it was to be sick and pregnant at the same time, but none of us had any idea that this was the start of everything turning upside down.

She was out for most of that week and returned to the classroom on that Friday. By Friday evening she started experiencing flu-like symptoms. We're not really sure where she caught the flu. I'll spare you the details of the nightmare that followed because no one should have to relive that. The basic summary would be: flu, pneumonia, loss of the baby, hospital, ventilator, sepsis, septic shock, gone...all within days.

Thousands joined in prayer with us as her husband's posts on her condition were shared over and over again. In the hospital room, her favorite Kari Jobe album played softly in the background. My mom, her husband, his parents, and I remained by her side until the very end while members from our church, friends, and my daughter were vigilant in the waiting room. We all kept hoping and praying Allison would somehow pull through, but things just kept getting worse.

My daughter demanded that she wasn't leaving Aunt Allison--her "hair twin." Even though she hadn't been allowed back in Allison's ICU room, she felt the need to remain in the waiting room--as close to her aunt as she could be. Only the promise that she could come back the next morning finally got her to go with my husband and the boys the night before Allison passed away. Allison was gone before my daughter made it back though.

On the morning of Friday, May 20, my sweet sister left us. The nurse pointed out that Sweep Me Away in Your Love was the song playing as Allison passed into the arms of Jesus just two days after losing her baby and being admitted to the hospital.

I still relive the walk from ICU Room 19 out into the waiting area in both my waking and sleeping hours. The weeping and sad faces told me that our devastating news had already made it out there. I remember looking through the people gathered to find my husband and kids who had just returned to the hospital. There in that waiting room that overlooks the very same hospital courtyard where Allison and Carl were married just 3 1/2 years prior, I had to tell my husband and kids that Allison was gone. I'll never forget the feel of my daughter--heavy in my arms as she wailed for her Aunt. That was the moment when my already broken heart shattered into a million tiny pieces.

And here we are...a little over three months later...still trying to pick up the pieces of our broken hearts. I'm giving those fragments to God one by one. It's all I know to do. Breathe in. Breathe out. Pray. Love. Remember. Heal. This morning I busy my hands preparing breakfast for the kids. It's the essentials I've been focusing on--eating, breathing, sleeping, caring for the kids, and clinging onto to Jesus. It's all about survival these days. The rest just hasn't mattered.

Everyone keeps telling me to just take it a day at a time. What they don't realize is that my life is second by second, minute by minute these days. In this very moment my focus is on the crack of the egg and the sizzling shush of the butter across the skillet as I blink hard to fight back tears. Music! Yes, that's what I need. I pull up a programmed station on Pandora from the phone and go back to breakfast. Crack. Sizzle. Chop.
You're my strength
You're my defender
You're my refuge in the storm
Through these trials
You've always been faithful
You bring healing to my soul...

Oh, sweet friends! It's true! If I could look at and hug each of you, I'd remind you that we are never alone--most especially through the valleys of our lives. God is with us...always.

Lyrics coming from the phone wash over me. The phone doesn't ring or ding as much these days. It just plays. The outpouring of calls and messages has stopped. The rest of the world seems to have moved on. There is a deep loneliness to grief. Have you ever experienced that too? As the rest of the world whirls around, we're left to pick of the pieces and press on. The isolation hasn't been all bad though. It's been a reminder that my happiness doesn't rest in people but with God. Fellowship with him is what my heart needs today.
"Kids, after we finish eating, let's go outside for a little while. We'll play before it gets too hot." That announcement is followed up by gleeful shouts and a scrambling for shoes.
Outside the morning sun feels warm on my face. Later in the day, it will feel too humid and sticky to be out, but the morning hours are still pleasant. How I long for the coolness of fall--Allison's favorite time of year and mine. The soft clucking and cooing of the chickens and the sunflowers swaying in the breeze steady my heart. The flowers from the garden remind me of the ones my sister and I used to pick so many years ago. Being out in God's creation has been a sweet reminder to my soul that he remains with me. I'm not walking this journey alone. This has been my retreat this summer--the yard out back with the kids running and playing and my quiet whispers with God.
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