Friday, July 21, 2017

More Paper Lantern Hot-Air Balloons

"The balloons only have one life, and the only way of finding out whether they work is to attempt to fly around the world." ~ Richard Branson

In my last post, I offered a how-to on making hot-air balloons from paper lanterns -- decorations we used for my sister-in-law's recent baby shower. Along with the larger pale blue balloons I showed you in that tutorial, I also made a smaller size in light apple green.

For the bases on this style, I cut the handles from straw baskets from Hobby Lobby. Crocheted trim hot glued around the rim added an extra detail.

Contrasting patterns of scrapbook paper, also from Hobby Lobby, made festive bunting.

We hung our blue and green hot-air balloons from the ceiling indoors, and placed several on tables with a candle tucked into the basket, but these adornments would look lovely swaying in the breeze at an outdoor party.

Several of these beauties are now hanging in the baby's nursery. Let's hope they bring happy dreams of beautiful adventures! To learn more about this project, visit this tutorial.

"We should all have personal hot air balloons and drift serenely through the clouds." ~ Rhys Brown

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Make Hot-Air Balloons from Paper Lanterns

"Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon." ~ Winnie the Pooh

We could not be more excited to be welcoming a sweet little nephew to our family this summer. In celebration, I recently hosted a party for my sister-in-law Shana. I will be sharing more details of our sprinkle -- a shower for a mother-to-be who already has at least one child -- in an upcoming post. But today I'm offering a tutorial for the charming decorations I made to fit our hot-air-balloon theme.

For this project, you will need paper lanterns. I bought one pack of ten 16-inch lanterns in pale blue and one pack of ten 14-inch lanterns in light apple green. (I will share photos of the green hot-air balloons in my next post.)

Hot-air balloons hung from the ceiling and served as candlelit table centerpieces at the party. I created bunting by cutting out scrapbook-paper triangles (2 inches deep for the 14-inch lanterns and 3 inches for the 16-inch lanterns), punching holes, and stringing the pennants onto lengths of baker's twine. Then I hot glued the bunting to the lantern.

When shopping for a basket to serve as the base, it is helpful to take a paper lantern with you for size comparison. I used straw baskets and whimsical animal-themed containers from Hobby Lobby for our balloons.

Paper straws connect the lanterns to the bases. Using a generous amount of hot glue, I carefully adhered four straws to the inside of each base, allowing the glue to cool completely before proceeding. 

To connect a base to a lantern, I turned the lantern over, touched the straws to the lantern to determine an even placement, then glued the straws to the lantern. This step must be done very carefully. Extra glue may be needed to assure a secure bond. Once the glue cooled, I turned the lantern back over to its base and glued lengths of ribbon to the lantern where the straws meet the lantern. This adds an extra embellishment and covers glue at these joints.

After the party, Shana chose several hot-air balloons to take home as mementos of our special day.

This sweet trio now hangs above the crib in the nursery -- special keepsakes to welcome the little one who has already stolen our hearts!

"If I were king of the world, babies born in airplanes, balloons and blimps would, instead of choosing to be German, Maldavian or American, all get special heavenly blue passports with a stork on the cover labeled 'Sky Baby' -- and they'd be allowed to come and go anywhere they please." ~ Robert Krulwich

Photos by Nathan Prichard. Used with permission.

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Visit to Hearts Desire Tea Room in Columbiana

"Perhaps it is while drinking tea that I most of all enjoy the sense of leisure." ~ George Gissing

Recently Mary Ashley, Emma and I visited Hearts Desire Tea Room in Columbiana, Alabama -- a special girls-only outing with family before my sister-in-law Shana welcomes a new baby boy. We recently celebrated this blessing-to-be with a "sprinkle" (a party for a mother who already has at least one child), so afternoon tea offered an opportunity to unwind after the previous whirlwind weekend.

Google Driving Directions for Hearts Desire may take you to the tea room's former location in Wilsonville, so be sure the path leads to the Columbiana Inn, a circa-1889 historic home near downtown Columbiana. Under the care of innkeepers Andrew and Diane Moore, the charming Victorian has found new life as a bed-and-breakfast.

Full-service English afternoon tea, available by reservation, features a choice of freshly brewed loose teas and a prix-fixe three-course menu.

My view included my sweet Mary Ashley, who thoroughly enjoyed her pot of Chocolate Mint tea. Other favorite blends at our table included Strawberry Shortcake, Peaches and Cream, and Peach Apricot.

The first course included vegetable quiche and chicken salad -- both house specialties -- and fresh fruit.

Teatime is a relaxed affair here, so there is plenty of time to take in the pretty vignettes. I felt right at home amid all the antiques.

Next came a tiered server laden with dainty morsels -- a delicious bounty to share.

China teacups and plates add interest to the decor. With so many makers represented, patrons are likely to find a sentimental connection. My father's wife, Vicki, recognized an heirloom pattern among those displayed on the wall.

Working our way up from the lowest tier of teatime treats, we began with savories, shown clockwise from below left: house-made pimento cheese in phyllo cups, cucumber sandwiches, finger sandwiches with ribbons of blueberry and strawberry cream cheese, and ham and cheese pinwheels. 

Next, we enjoyed a trio of petite tea breads, including traditional and cranberry-citrus scones and a mini banana muffin. Lemon curd and clotted cream were offered alongside.

This gleaming silver tea set caught my eye immediately. Isn't it lovely?

Our teatime ended with dessert. Although different sweets find their way into the rotation, Diane said the Hearts Desire Brownie is a signature offering that guests can look forward to enjoying every time they visit. There could only be one thing sweeter than this moist brownie topped with chocolate whipped cream and slivered almonds.

And that would have to be the company! Here, Mary Ashley and Emma pose with cousins Kadence and Bailey. For those who enjoy dressing up during teatime, an ample selection of costume accessories await at Hearts Desire. Although I did not don a vintage hat, feather boa or gloves for the occasion, I still left wearing a smile -- and looking forward to my next opportunity to have a cup of tea. 

"Tea is quiet and our thirst for tea is never far from our craving for beauty." ~ James Norwood Pratt

Friday, July 14, 2017

Returning to My Garden of Sentiment

"In my garden there is a large place for sentiment." ~ Abram L. Urban

Imagine my surprise when I popped in to visit A Little Loveliness earlier this week and discovered the layout littered with advertisements. I had not heard about recent policy changes for an image-hosting site that was used in the course of redesigning my blog several years ago, so I was startled by the sudden demand for annual fees totaling several hundred dollars. Thankfully, my talented designer, Kassie Garlock of Designs by Kassie, was able to restore loveliness yesterday. A few elements have had to change as a result of the transfer, but I can't tell you how relieved I am to know that my online journal has been saved.

Although I am not able to post with the frequency I once did, this blog is still a quiet refuge -- a place for my heart to rest. I love to linger here and hope that you do, too! Many of my deepest thoughts, fondest memories, most prized family photos, and favorite recipes and creative ideas have been placed here for safekeeping. So today I am counting my blessings that I can return to this collection of thoughts and dreams.

The posy of peonies above -- a delightful surprise at my local grocery store -- seemed a fitting image to share in celebration of this new chapter for the blog. There is more loveliness just around the bend, with upcoming posts already planned with baby-shower ideas, a creative project, and a delicious salmon recipe. But first, a visit to a local tea room. Look for that review on Monday.

Have a lovely weekend! And if you want to settle in here to revisit some of the blissful moments we have shared over the years, feel free to join me.  

"My garden of flowers is also my garden of thoughts and dreams. The thoughts grow as freely as the flowers, and the dreams are as beautiful." ~ Abram L. Urban

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Happy Independence Day!

Wishing you a blessed and happy celebration for the Fourth of July!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Blackberries 'n' Cream Pinwheels Recipe from Eliza Cross

Wouldn't these pastries be a festive breakfast option for the upcoming holiday weekend? In fact, who could resist such a delicious freshly baked treat any time of day? Cookbook author Eliza Cross shares the how-to from her latest release, Berries: Sweet & Savory Recipes. I appreciate Eliza for filling this week with a menu of recipes bursting with fruit. 

Blackberries 'n' Cream Pinwheels

These impressive pastries only look difficult to make. Flaky puff pastry pinwheels are anchored with a sweet, creamy filling and topped with blackberry jam, fresh berries, and sparkling sugar.


8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 (17.3-ounce) package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed
1/2 cup blackberry jam
1 1/2 cups fresh blackberries or boysenberries
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
Sparkling sugar, for sprinkling 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer on high speed until smooth. Add the sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla; beat until smooth. Reserve.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out each sheet of thawed puff pastry to a 10-inch square. Cut each square into 4 equal squares and transfer to the prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between each square. Prick the pastry squares with a fork. Spoon 1 heaping tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture into the center of each square, spreading in a small circle about 11/2 inches in diameter. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the jam on top of the cream cheese mixture and top with 4 blackberries.

Use a sharp knife to make 4 diagonal cuts from the corners of each pastry square to within 1 inch of the center. Fold every other corner up over the filling to the center, overlapping the points and pinching to seal.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and water. Brush each pinwheel all over with the egg wash. Sprinkle the pastry with sparkling sugar. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

This weekend I will be hosting a baby shower, so look for details in an upcoming post!

Photo and recipe used with permission.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Grilled Flank Steak with Blackberry Sauce Recipe from Eliza Cross

One of my culinary goals this year is to master the grill. I don't know why this method of cooking has always intimidated me, but this spring I decided that expanding my horizons would be well worth the discomfort of trying something new. Whether you are new to the grill or a seasoned pro, this recipe from the new cookbook Berries: Sweet & Savory Recipes, by Eliza Cross, sounds like a flavorful reason to get fired up!

Grilled Flank Steak with Blackberry Sauce

Flank steak cooks up quickly and easily on the grill thanks to a garlicky marinade that tenderizes the meat and imparts flavor. After slicing the steak thinly on the diagonal, it is served with a vibrant blackberry sauce.


1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
2 pounds flank steak
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, divided
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 cup red wine
1 1/3 cups beef stock or low-sodium beef broth
1/2 cup fresh or frozen (thawed and drained) blackberries
1/4 cup blackberry jam or preserves
Chopped fresh mint leaves, for garnish

In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, soy sauce, vinegar, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, garlic, and pepper. Place the flank steak in a shallow glass dish. Pour marinade over the steak, turning meat to coat thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or overnight, turning steak several times to distribute marinade.

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat (350 to 400 degrees F) and oil the grate. Remove steak from marinade and arrange on the grill, discarding marinade. Grill meat for about 5 minutes per side, or to desired doneness. Transfer to a cutting board, tent with aluminum foil, and allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing thinly across the grain.

While the steak is resting, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the wine and increase the heat to medium high.

Bring to a boil and cook until wine is reduced by half, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the beef stock, blackberries, and jam. Stir, mashing the berries with the spoon. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sauce is thickened, 4 to 5 minutes.

Remove sauce from heat and stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper. To serve, drizzle sliced flank steak with blackberry sauce and sprinkle with fresh mint.

Stop in Friday for a sweet pastry perfect for the upcoming holiday weekend!

Photos and recipe used with permission from Eliza Cross.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Warm Brie with Blueberry-Mango Salsa Recipe from Eliza Cross

I was delighted to preview cookbook author Eliza Cross's latest work, Berries: Sweet & Savory Recipes. If you are as crazy about these flavorful gems as I am, you will love her collection of mouthwatering appetizers, side dishes, main courses, and desserts. This week, Eliza shares a trio of recipes from the book. Our first offering, which features blueberries, might be the perfect way to greet guests for your July Fourth festivities. 

Warm Brie with Blueberry-Mango Salsa

A refreshing homemade fruit salsa perfectly complements the creamy, melty texture of Brie cheese in this easy appetizer recipe. Crispy homemade crostini provide the perfect base for the warm spread.


3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons salted butter, melted
1 French baguette, cut diagonally into 1 /2-inch slices
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup diced mango
2 tablespoons minced red bell pepper
2 tablespoons minced red onion
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon finely minced jalapeño
1 (1-pound) round Brie cheese 

Preheat the oven broiler to medium high and line a baking pan with aluminum foil. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil and butter. Brush the baguette slices with the mixture and arrange on the prepared baking pan. Broil until crispy and golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer bread slices to a wire rack. Cool to room temperature and reserve. 

In a small bowl, combine the lime juice, honey, and salt; whisk to combine. Add the blueberries, mango, bell pepper, onion, cilantro, and jalapeño. Stir gently to combine and reserve. 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 

Place the Brie in a round, shallow ovenproof casserole or cake pan no more than 2 inches wider than the cheese. Bake until cheese is melted in the center, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven and spoon salsa on top. Serve warm with toasted baguette slices.

Stop in Wednesday for a tantalizing entree from Berries: Sweet & Savory Recipes -- a succulent beef dish ideal for summertime entertaining! 

Photos and recipe from Eliza Cross. Used with permission.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Easy Chicken Taco Tray

"Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability." ~ Sam Keen

For a recent summer bash at church, I loaded up a tray with all the fixings for chicken tacos. Although this has been one of my favorite family meals of late, I had not really thought about sharing it here until the other adults in attendance started making a fuss over the idea.

Perfect any time of year, this quick and easy menu is especially enjoyable on the hottest days of summer when you don't want to turn on the oven or stove.

The focal point of the buffet is this savory chicken, which doesn't even merit a recipe! In the morning, simply place chicken breasts in the slow cooker, pour a jar of salsa over, and cook on low for at least 8 hours. Shortly before serving, shred chicken with two forks. That's it! This entree really stretches to feed a crowd. I usually use 3 chicken breasts for our family of six, and I always have plenty of leftovers for salads and wraps throughout the week.

Arrange favorite toppings on a tray, and you are ready for dinner out -- whether that means by the pool on a lazy Saturday, on the screened-in porch for a weeknight supper, or at a party with friends.

We took our sweet little neighbors with us to the summer bash, and when I placed this tray in Emma's lap to hold steady during the drive, I heard one of the girls whisper, "We're not allowed to eat in the car." Ha! There was no passing of the taco tray during our commute, but there was a lot of singing "It's Raining Tacos."

Alongside chicken and flour tortillas, we like to serve spring mix lettuces, black beans, tomatoes, cheese, sour cream and cilantro. For me, the brightness of the fresh herb turns this easy, breezy weeknight staple into crave-worthy cuisine.

 While the kids enjoy making soft tacos, I prefer piling on the greens for a refreshing salad. Add chips and queso, and something frosty and cool for dessert, and you have a menu that is as simple to prepare as it is delicious to eat.

"The summer night is like a perfection of thought." ~ Wallace Stevens

Monday, June 19, 2017

Letters from Daddy

I originally wrote this essay for Ideals magazine and wanted to share it again here in honor of Father's Day.

In my first weeks as a college freshman, nothing pleased me more than finding a letter in my mailbox. Several times a day, I would make the trek across campus to the student center, hoping to find a note from a friend or relative. Letters from home helped give me confidence to reach out to new people, even as they helped me feel closer to the ones I had left behind. Eager to keep up with news from my hometown, I opened letters postmarked from Morristown immediately. Unless the letter was from my father.

Recognizing my father’s script on the envelope, I would quickly tuck the letter into my backpack, afraid the tears welling in my eyes would betray my emotions. I was trying to be a mature and independent college girl, after all. But with just a glimpse of my father’s handwriting, I was reduced to a homesick Daddy’s girl.

Growing up, I idolized my dad. He is a minister, and in my mind there was no Bible question that he couldn’t answer. But even more impressive to me, he lived his faith. I knew he was a man devoted to prayer and Bible study because I saw that he communed with God daily. He served and counseled church members with patience and compassion, yet he never forsook his role as husband and father. He served God, church and family with quiet humility. In my young eyes, he was perfect.

Heading back to my dorm room to read a letter from my father, I smiled remembering how Daddy’s letters had helped take the edge off my homesickness during my first trips away from home. When my sister and I spent a week at summer camp together, Daddy wrote that he asked our younger brother if he missed us girls. “If the girls were here,” 3-year-old Nathan responded, “I would put them in the trash can.” Only a brother could make you miss him more with such a statement.

Daddy’s letters could always make me laugh. “I’m sorry I haven’t taken time to write yet,” he once wrote to me at camp. “We have been busy painting your room this week. It looks really nice. I think you’ll like the polka dots and stripes.” Daddy often included comic strips, sometimes jotting notes relating to camp food or new friends.

My father used his letters as teaching tools also. “Thought you might enjoy this good article,” he would casually suggest at the end of a letter. I still have many of the magazine clippings he sent me to encourage purity or strengthen my faith.

Most meaningful to me were Daddy’s heartfelt sentiments. After I served as a counselor during the week he was camp director, he took time to write me a letter. “Dear Melissa,” he began, “I was so proud of you at camp again this year. You got involved, spent time with the campers, and made me proud in every way. I do not often enough tell you that I love you and appreciate you, but I really do. I am so glad to have you as my daughter. I hope this school year will be a great one for you. Learn just as much as you can, because these years will soon be gone. I love you with all my heart. Daddy.” I treasure this letter, and all the others I received from him.

Daddy’s letters taught me the power of putting pen to paper. This is a lesson I try to put into practice today. As my children make their first tentative steps into the world, I hope that a note slipped into their lunch boxes will help them get through a day of kindergarten. As they grow, I hope my letters written along the way will encourage and teach them, but most of all remind them they are loved.

This year for Father’s Day, I’m sending Daddy a letter. I want him to know that after all these years, in my eyes he is still perfect. I hope that when he recognizes his daughter’s familiar script on the envelope, he will know this letter is one to tuck into his heart to keep forever.

Happy Father's Day!

"Hear, O sons, the instruction of a father, and give attention that you may gain understanding ..." (Proverbs 4:1).

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Garden Variety of Rosy Perspectives

"Each fairy breath of summer, as it blows with loveliness, inspires the blushing rose." ~ Author Unknown

Our recent family session with photographer friend Lauri Ann Itson at the Fairhope Municipal Pier ended with the girls and me in the historic landmark's fragrant rose garden. Knowing it would mean a lot to me, the boys even joined us for the pose above. I couldn't resist snapping a few photos of favorite blooms, so I am scattering those among the images Lauri Ann took of Mary Ashley, Emma and me.

Thank you for indulging me in sharing so many portraits this week; capturing this moment in time before our first child leaves home has been such a precious gift to me!

"I question not if thrushes sing,
If roses load the air;
Beyond my heart I need not reach
When all is summer there."
~John Vance Cheney

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