Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Cup of Friendship


A favorite quote reminds me, "You cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop that makes it run over. So in a series of kindnesses, there is at last one which makes the heart run over."

The cup of friendship above celebrates the idea that the vessel of friendship can be filled by the smallest of gestures. A warm smile, an encouraging word, a token of thoughtfulness. And drop by drop, these acts of kindness fill the heart until it overflows.

I made the travel mugs pictured for friends I met during my husband's law school days in Lexington, Ky. Our group of five met at church and became fast friends. With three of our husbands in school, money was tight. But at least once a month we planned visits to tea rooms, historic homes and other area sites. One of my favorite outings was lunch on the grounds of a historic home. Under a canopy of trees we sat nibbling layered pea salad, strawberry soup, egg salad croissants and other dainty treats. The whole afternoon was a delightful experience, and even the rain shower that sent us running to the car with picnic supplies couldn't spoil our fun.

Although we enjoyed our times together, I don't think we fully appreciated the beauty and simplicity of that time of life. Or how once our paths diverged, our happy memories would help sustain us through more difficult days. Since those golden days for our fivesome, three of us have moved to different states. Two have felt the pain of infertility; one the challenges of raising a special needs child. Three of our mothers have battled cancer. And sadly, the last time the five of us were together, we gathered to bury a child.

So this fall, from my little corner of the world in Alabama, I'm sending a cup of friendship across the miles to those four special friends from long ago. And I hope that when each one discovers her little gift in the mailbox, she will smile remembering our times together. And when she faces the demands of her most trying, hectic days, I hope she will carry her travel mug with her. Maybe it can serve as a little reminder that even when we are on-the-go, we go with the love, support and prayers of all the friends we have met along the way. And remembering their kindnesses, our grateful hearts will overflow, thankful that we have been so blessed to call each other "friend."

Oh, Fill My Cup. Making a personalized travel mug might be a wonderful way to show a friend you care. Sites like Oriental Trading sell design-your-own travel mugs, sippy cups and sport bottles in bulk, making personalized cups a cost-effective option for party favors and gift giving.

To make a personalized cup, remove the paper insert from the travel mug. Use the insert as your liner pattern. Trace the insert onto the wrong side of the fabric with a fabric-marking pen. Decorator fabrics will probably be thick enough on their own, but you may need to adhere a fusible backing to lighter-weight fabrics to give them more body. Sew a decorative edge around the liner, and cut it out. Add a monogram for the finishing touch. If you don’t have an embroidery machine, you could probably add this detail inexpensively by finding a mom who runs a home-based monogramming business.

If you are making coffee inserts in bulk or prefer to work with paper, print monograms on colorful scrapbook paper. Then use the travel mug insert to lightly trace your pattern. Cut the liner out, and laminate it. Check package instructions for dish washing instructions for your new travel mug.



Let It Overflow. What could be better than receiving a personalized coffee cup? How about filling it with rich, frothy mocha punch? I discovered this recipe at a church bridal shower and thought it would be great for all kinds of gatherings -- college and teen devotionals, dinner group with my girlfriends, or even a surprise delivery to the moms waiting in carpool line. And now I'm so pleased to share this recipe with you!



Mocha Punch
6 cups water
1/2 cup Nestle Quick Instant Mix
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup instant coffee
1/2 gallon chocolate ice cream
1/2 gallon vanilla ice cream
Whipped cream

Boil 6 cups of water, and remove from heat. Add ½ cup Nestle Quick Instant Mix, ½ cup sugar, ¼ cup instant coffee, and stir until dissolved. Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight. Thirty minutes before serving, add ½ gallon each of chocolate and vanilla ice cream into a punch bowl by scoopfuls. Pour the coffee mixture over the ice cream, and stir gently. Ladle into punch cups, and top with whipped cream.

To adapt the mocha punch recipe to serve it at home with friends, keep the coffee mixture in a pitcher in the refrigerator. Scoop ice cream into personalized travel mugs, and pour the coffee mixture over. Top with whipped cream, and garnish with a sprinkle of Nestle Quick.

Let It Overflow with Love. I treasure the new friendships that have formed through blogging. Although we may not know each other by face or by voice, we share an intimacy because we know each other by heart. I am so thankful that you are now a part of my journey, so I would like to send a cup of friendship your way. Leave me a comment on this post, and I will draw a name next Wednesday to receive a personalized travel mug.


"Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Grounded Before Take-Off

Six-year-old Christian got upset when 4-year-old Mary Ashley wasn't doing her share of the work picking up toys in the family room. From my bedroom I heard him scold her firmly.

"Mary Ashley, you are grounded! That means no TV, no video games and no telephone."

"Uh, Christian," she replied in a little voice, "I don't know how to play video games, and I'm too young to use the phone."

Monday, August 25, 2008

Unbearably Cute Cookie



I have been making this cookie recipe as long as I can remember. My mother and I discovered peanut butter balls in a cookbook I was given as a preschooler, A Child's First Book of Cooking. When we first tried the recipe, I dutifully rolled the sticky dough into balls. As my skills progressed, I crisscrossed the tines of a fork to make classic peanut butter cookies. Before too long, I was tucking a Hershey's Kiss into each cookie. And by high school I was fashioning the dough into all kinds of shapes.

Teddy bears were my favorite design, so I felt inspired to revive this recipe when I learned that Christian's first-grade class was planning a teddy bear picnic. So I pulled out my dogeared 1975 cookbook and invited my children to join me in the kitchen. Always eager to bake, they had a great time shaping -- and sampling -- the dough. As our cookie baked, the wonderful aroma of peanut butter balls filled our house with warmth, blending yesterday's cherished memories of childhood with today's treasured moments of motherhood.


Peanut Butter Balls

1 cup sugar

1 cup peanut butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

Heat oven to 250 degrees. Mix ingredients, and roll into 1" balls. Bake on cookie sheet until browned.




I doubled the peanut butter ball recipe above to make this jumbo-size cookie. To make a teddy bear, roll dough into a ball and flatten it on a cookie sheet to make the head. Add smaller dough balls to make the ears and to add details to the face. Shape bigger balls of dough to make the body and legs. Roll tubes of dough to make the arms, and use scraps to make a bow tie. Lightly press a knife into the dough to add details, and add the finishing touches with chocolate chips and Hershey's Kisses. Bake until golden brown, and allow the cookie to cool before gently easing it onto a serving piece.

Friday, August 22, 2008

First Day of School

The children have enjoyed going back to school. Even little Emma is going for a few hours each week. She was excited when I picked her up on her first day, and I guess she thought it was a status symbol to announce, "I ha' homewok!"

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Toothless Grin

Six-year-old Christian left this note under his pillow for the Tooth Fairy:



I was eat-

ing brekfast

And Then my

tooth fell out

And Then my tooth

got on my

Pancake.

And then I

swallowed it.


Update: The Tooth Fairy graciously accepted Christian's note and gave him a silver dollar. He was so excited! We have since learned that she has brought toys, books and other prizes to some of the children we know. So I'm curious, what does the Tooth Fairy bring to your house?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Baby Shower Chic


The impending arrival of a new niece has had me happily crafting for the last week. My brother, Nathan, and his wife, Shana, are expecting little Kadence Marie next month. I can't wait to meet this little one!

For the baby shower gift above, I hoped to deliver "chic frills" to suit Nathan and Shana's modern style. For my palette, I took color cues from Kadence's nursery. Nathan has painted the bottom half of the walls mocha brown and the top half apple green. A wide stripe of pink separates the two colors and adds a touch of femininity. Shana and Nathan prefer clean lines to fussy details, so for their baby gift I exchanged sweet florals for sassy geometrics and kept finishes simple. The resulting combination incorporates several of my favorite baby gift-giving ideas.

A Tisket, a Tasket. I love to give gifts in baskets! New moms can always use extra storage. Whether Nathan and Shana use this cheery green basket for storing clothes in the closet, keeping books by the rocking chair, or stashing diapers and wipes in the family room, I know they will find a great use for it.

Getting Personal. Naming a child is a great privilege, and this task is usually approached with purpose and care. So gifts bearing the baby-to-be's name or monogram are usually received with appreciation. The one thing I have learned in this area is that confirming the spelling is worth spoiling the surprise. When my aunt had her first granddaughter, I asked the baby's name over the phone. I embroidered a lovely blanket for little Farrah, and only realized my mistake when I delivered the gift to my aunt and she asked, "Have you seen pictures of our sweet little Sarah?" Now whenever possible I confirm the spelling in writing because a personalized gift is priceless, but only when it bears the recipient's name.

For Baby's First Leftovers. Burp cloths are a practical gift for new and experienced moms. Fabric, trims and embroidery dress up this baby essential. You can find directions for making fabric-paneled burp cloths here. Pastel-colored take-out boxes from the craft store make a cute presentation for a single rolled burp cloth, or tuck one into a padded envelope for an easy gift to ship. I embroidered several burp cloths for Baby Kadence, but my favorite design was a green K encircled in pink and brown polka dots. I designed this with embroidery software by centering a letter on my design page and placing a circle around it. I then spaced alternating colors of bullets around the circle. And when I was satisfied with the look, I deleted the underlying circle from the design. I was so pleased with the way this design turned out, I embroidered it on a fluffy pink blanket as well.


Taking Notes. Personalized note cards are a great gift for mommies-to-be. Simply print the baby's name or monogram on a small piece of card stock, and glue it to a larger piece of card stock. When I made note cards before daughter Emma's arrival, I finished off each design with a soft pink bow. To make assembling the cards easy, I centered two bullets above her name in my document. Then after I printed the cards, I punched holes through my guide dots, slipped a ribbon through, and tied a bow. For niece Kadence's cards, I layered pink, brown and lime green papers. A few polka dots add the finishing touch. Tied together with coordinating ribbon, Kadence has her first stationery set!

Add a Little Life. I love tucking fresh flowers or greenery into a baby gift as a subtle way to acknowledge the new life we celebrate. Potted flowers were a sweet addition to the Easter basket I made for my friend Joely's spring baby. For Nathan and Shana's autumn blessing, shiny green apples added the punch of color I needed to finish off their gift basket.

The Great Frame-Up. I got the idea for framing a baby's monogram when my friend Allison did this for her daughter. Parents can hang the frame on the hospital door to announce the baby's arrival, then display the piece on the nursery wall. For Kadence I cut a funky piece of scrapbook paper for the 8-inch square frame, then cut a smaller piece of card stock and printed my niece's monogram on it. I glued the monogram to the paper, using a clear ruler to assure perfect placement. A bow hot glued to the top of the frame completes the look. This is a cute way to frame photographs as well, so down the road my photographer brother Nathan may want to replace the monogram with a photo of the baby.

I hope Nathan and Shana love their baby gift. I tried to incorporate their color choices and design aesthetic to create a gift they would appreciate. And I hope I struck a pleasing balance of fun and function, trends and tradition, sass and sweetness. But most of all, I hope that Nathan and Shana realize their basket was packed with hope, filled with love, and given with a prayer for Baby Kadence.


Tucked into a cheery basket, thoughtful treasures tell the little one, "You're the apple of my eye!" How do you like to welcome a new baby?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Blog Around the World

I have been amazed since starting a blog this year how blogging has broadened my world, while somehow making the world seem smaller at the same time. I started a blog after nearly a year of keeping up with my girlfriends from church through their blogs. I have enjoyed seeing friends' pictures and hearing what their children are up to. And I feel like I have grown closer to these women as I check in daily to learn about their latest struggles, triumphs, joys and sorrows.

But gradually my circle of "bloggerlfriends" or "gURLfriends," as I call them, has also widened to include many people I have never met face to face. Although I wouldn't recognize many of these women if I saw them on the street, I feel a profound connection to the words they write. I think this is because even though we haven't met face to face, we know each other by heart.

I discovered one of my favorite bloggy friends, Debbie, when I noticed her comments on other blogs I enjoy reading. Her comments voiced so many of my own thoughts. So I followed the links to her blog, and there I found a delightful new friend who always makes me smile. She described her own surprise at the connections she has found with other women in "Mommy Blogging -- Birds of a Feather." Although she started her blog as a means of self-expression, Debbie says she has grown to genuinely admire and care about many of the women she has met through blogging. She explains:
I admire how so many of you have been transparent with struggles ranging from stress, marital problems, infertility, depression, illness, loss of a child, loss of a sibling, etc. You are the world at large. Only you are pouring out your hearts to strangers and blessing so many other women who may read your words while living with the same struggles and realize they. aren’t. alone.
And, as usual, I couldn't agree more. So when Debbie started her latest adventure, a new site called Blog Around the World, I knew I would want to take part. Debbie is linking bloggers by geography, encouraging us to reach out to bloggers in our home state while meeting new ones in other parts of the world.

You never know how one click of the mouse can change your world. At once, blogging has made my world feel bigger and smaller. As a stay-at-home mom, it has broadened my world as I connect with the words of mothers from all over the world. It has reengerized my prayer life, as I have taken others' struggles to heart, then taken them to the Lord. And at the same time blogging has made the world cozier, as I have realized that as women we are bonded by common threads of faith, family and friendship.

I enjoy going through my days feeling connected with other women -- both those who I'll see in church on Sunday and those I may never see in this life. Whether you live near or far, thanks for being one of my gURLfriends. You have changed my world, and I am so glad to know you by heart!

A Walk in the Parks

Magic Kingdom

We spent Days 1 and 5 of our Disney World vacation in the Magic Kingdom. There is so much to do in this park that I'm glad we had a second day to revisit favorites and experience the attractions we missed the first day. Magic Kingdom highlights for the boys included Carson jumping rope before the afternoon parade and Christian being chosen to play Belle's father in her story time garden. And they enjoyed riding the roller coasters and Pirates of the Caribbean. Tops for the girls was meeting their favorite princesses. Emma proudly sported a kiss from Ariel all afternoon! The girls were most excited to meet Cinderella, and Emma surprised the princess into giggles by talking nonstop as soon as they met. We all enjoyed the parades, and the nighttime fireworks displays left us breathless!



Animal Kingdom

This park was much easier to accomplish in one day. We began our tour of the Animal Kingdom by embarking on a safari. The children enjoyed spotting animals along the way. Then while the boys took off in search of adventure on the roller coasters, the girls headed for calmer waters and the Finding Nemo musical. We thoroughly enjoyed this show, as well as The Festival of the Lion King. The boys caught an afternoon parade, and all the children enjoyed the carnival-style rides in Dinoland.



Epcot

I was really worn out from our day in Epcot, but I did push the double stroller from Canada to France, then to China and all the way to Norway and back. While the boys tackled the rides and science exhibits, the girls and I visited the countries. Each area was so unique, and I especially enjoyed the scenery in Canada. I was amused to discover that it is a small world after all, as I overheard parents of all ethnicities asking their children why they didn't tell them they needed to go to the bathroom before they got in line. The girls enjoyed coloring masks at Kidcot stations throughout the day, and along the way they met Snow White, Winnie the Pooh and friends, and Sleeping Beauty. Sleeping Beauty was the most gracious of all the princesses we met, and she said so many kind things to the girls. Mary Ashley told me the princess pointed out that their hair and eyes are alike. Mary Ashley smiled wistfully for hours after their encounter, and several times said dreamily, "She called me princess."


Hollywood Studios

We all felt like stars at Hollywood Studios. We started our day with a bang watching the outdoor High School Musical show. Even 2-year-old Emma was happy to identify songs and characters from her siblings' beloved "High-Goo-Gooney." Next we went to the Indiana Jones Stunt Show. I was excited to see this show because Joe's sister, Emily, alternated performing roles as the narrator and the female lead when she worked at Disney years ago. I was amazed to realize my sister-in-law scaled buildings and attempted so many dangerous stunts. As I have suspected all along, Emily really is a Super Woman! Then the girls and I were off to experience Playhouse Disney Live. The girls clapped, jumped and danced along with Mickey and friends. Later the family reunited to watch Beauty and the Beast, and I enjoyed the costuming, staging and music. The highlight of the day for the boys was being chosen for the Jedi Training Academy outside the Star Tours ride. They accepted their mission seriously and listened carefully to their instructor. Their practice paid off when they battled Darth Vader. After Christian took his turn demonstrating his maneuvers on Vader, storm troopers rushed at him. But my quick-thinking junior Jedi used the force to make them retreat. Then he beamed proudly as he watched his big brother battle Vader, certain that the villain was no match for Carson. After more rides and a parade, the boys were ready to meet the Power Rangers. We waited in line for the heroes to make their grand entrance. The Rangers struck ninja-inspired poses with all the children, so I was amused when Mary Ashley asked to have her picture made with the Pink Ranger and received hugs and cuddles from the superhero. I guess the Pink Ranger could tell at first glance that Mary Ashley is a lover, not a fighter! The Rockin' Roller Coaster was the boys' favorite attraction, and I think I won their respect by riding it and having a blast! We concluded our event-filled Hollywood Studios day watching the dazzling laser show Fantasmic.

We made so many memories to treasure during our Disney World vacation. It brought a tear to my eye to think back to my own childhood Mickey Mouse memories, realizing that I had returned to the parks as a grown woman ready to share the magic with my husband and four children. Experiencing the wonder through their eyes was such a gift. And I left our week thankful that dreams really do come true!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Dreams Come True

Joe and I rose early on the morning we left the beach. My stomach was in knots knowing we were about to share our biggest surprise ever with the children. We loaded the car that morning and headed out. But instead of driving home, we headed south. We drove for nearly four hours and couldn't believe that none of the children asked where we were going or why we weren't home yet.

When we stopped for lunch, we told them we had a big surprise. I gave them a brightly colored gift bag stuffed with fluffy tissue. Inside they were delighted to find candy and Toy Story, Toy Story 2 and The Little Mermaid DVDs. Joe told them that we were not on our way home, and I revealed our surprise destination with this poem:

D is for the dreams that came true when we had each of you.

I is the imagination you bring to everything you do.

S is for endless summer days and the fun we've had this year.

N is for memories we'll never forget made with loved ones we hold dear.

E is for exciting news to share with our precious boys and girls.

Y? Because we love you children, we're going to DISNEY WORLD!

The children were stunned and speechless when they learned we were on our way to Orlando to spend five days at Disney World!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sunset Surprise

We had a marvelous time on our recent family beach vacation. As the sun was setting on our time with grandparents and cousins, our four children had no idea that Joe and I were about to burst making preparations to surprise them the next day.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Balancing Strength and Courage

The most poignant moment I observed during our recent family beach trip came on our last evening together. At sunset the family met at the water's edge to photograph the children. I watched happily as the seven cousins laughed and played in the surf, quietly capturing all the action with my camera. Through my lens I saw carefree giggles, tender moments and childhood exuberance. I caught peaceful moments of quiet introspection. I watched the children grow big as they chased seagulls and stood arm in arm together. And I saw them feel small as they paused before the vast ocean to look toward the horizon. But the moment of courage that stirred my emotions most came when we headed down the beach.

The children held hands as they strolled down the beach, then broke into a run when a large piece of driftwood came into view. The tree trunk had washed onto the shore days before, and it was a marvelous spot to explore! Just hours before my four and their cousins Hollis and Reese had enjoyed playing on it in their bathing suits.

When we returned to the tree at sunset, we discovered that in the hours since, other beach-goers had dug a tunnel under the trunk. Nine-year-old Carson immediately slid into the pit below the trunk so he could dig, while 6-year-olds Christian and Hollis climbed onto the trunk. The younger cousins soon followed suit, taking turns crossing the makeshift bridge. The older boys raced across, barely aware of the space below them, while 4-year-old Mary Ashley glided slowly across the beam with the grace of a gymnast. Three-year-old Reese and 2-year-old Emma were eager to join the big kids. First, they inched their way across, but soon they were handling the bridge with ease too.

Three-year-old Hans was the last of the cousins to cross the log. I have a tender spot for this nephew. I still remember when Joe's sister, Emily, told me over the phone that he was on the way. I was so taken by surprise I screamed into the mouthpiece! I prayed often for his safe arrival, and my heart broke when I learned that ultrasounds had revealed serious complications. His left arm had only partially formed, and possible causes could result in life-threatening defects. We were so relieved when Hans was born without the heart defects we had been warned about. Healthy and robust, he astonished the doctors who were on standby in case he needed surgery at birth. We were so thankful for this rosy, pink bundle, and hoped he had been given an extra measure of strength and courage to face the challenges that lay ahead.

At 3, Hans is adapting to life with one hand. Weekly in-home visits with physical and occupational therapists combine exercise and play to develop balance, skills and coordination. Advancements in prosthetics should give him more freedom as he matures. He is a bright and energetic little boy who relishes time with his cousins. He eagerly mimicked them throughout our beach vacation, joining with them to run, dance and play in the pool.

So after observing his cousins exploring the trunk on the beach, Hans gingerly climbed aboard too. He eyed the drop below the bridge cautiously and stood there for several seconds, wanting to cross but afraid he would fall. Emily said later that his short arm affects his balance in ways we will probably never know. Each developmental milestone is a victory, as each new achievement takes Hans one step further to independence.

As I watched Hans standing on the precipice of fear and bravery, I was reminded of a quote from C.S. Lewis: "Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality."

Hans demonstrated a balance of strength and courage that day on the beach, as he took a deep breath and stepped out carefully. Slowly but surely he made his way across, aware of the hole below but focused on the goal.

Hans' journey across the bridge reminds me of the Christian life. Stepping out in faith can be difficult. It takes a balance of strength and courage to make the journey. Doubt, fear and temptation loom below, but God is with us. We need only to focus on Him. Deuteronomy 31:6 reminds us: "Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble ..., for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you."

Overcoming fear on our Christian walk is easier when we share the journey with Christian friends. Emily told me Hans never would have attempted this feat if he had not watched his cousins do it first. Eager to follow in their footsteps, he climbed onto the log. And he took his first tentative steps with cousin Hollis urging, "Come on, Hans. You can do it." We too gain inspiration from those around us. Godly companions can encourage us to stay on the path and motivate us to do better. First Thessalonians 5:11 urges, "Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing."


And when the journey seems too difficult, we can remember that all our struggles, trials and heartaches will be worth it in the end. Second Chronicles 15:7 reminds us, "But you, be strong and do not lose courage, for there is reward for your work." Hans was triumphant, and he beamed as he reached the end of the bridge -- and his proud daddy. Victory can be ours too. If we keep our eyes focused on the goal, we will make it. And just like little Hans, we can step out in faith knowing that at the end of our journey, our Father will be there to meet us with open arms.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Hand in Hand







We enjoyed a week with Joe's family at the beach. It was great fun to see how much the children enjoy each other. They are so blessed to grow up with cousins on both sides of the family that are their favorite people in the world! Our last evening together, we went down to the beach for pictures. Rough waters made the beach clean and smooth, and our sunset was beautiful! A piece of driftwood had washed up on shore, and the children loved exploring it. I am so pleased with these photos, and something tells me my in-laws will be too!

Tender Moments







Friday, August 1, 2008

Peas in a Pod








Emma and Reese

The Twin Cousins







Christian and Hollis

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