Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Memorial Day!

We who are left how shall we look again
Happily on the sun or feel the rain
Without remembering how they who went
Ungrudgingly and spent their lives for us
Loved, too, the sun and rain?

-- Wilfred Wilson Gibson

Friday, May 28, 2010

Announcing Our Summer Book Club Selection

 Crossing Oceans by Gina Holmes

“Poignant and unforgettable, Crossing Oceans will break your heart — and then put the pieces back together again. This is an uplifting and inspiring tale that reminds us to live every day as if it’s our last.” -- Tess Gerritsen, New York Times Best-Selling Author

I discovered this new release recently and could not put it down. It is a beautiful story that shows the strength of parental love. And it reminds us how much our heavenly Father was willing to sacrifice for us. Below, author Gina Holmes shares insights about this must-read book.

We would love for you to join our ladies book club meeting in August if you live in the Montgomery, Ala., area. Or read the book and join in the discussion here on the blog. I can't wait for us to talk about this book!

You can find Crossing Oceans here.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sweet Endings

For our Southern-style book club discussion of Savannah from Savannah by Denise Hildreth Jones, we enjoyed a selection of pound cakes served with drizzles of white chocolate, fresh berries and whipped cream. And guests received a sweet surprise: Denise called in to chat with us during our book discussion! Talking to the author was a highlight of the evening.

We set up a round table in the center of the room for our desserts, and Teri Phillips prepared this lovely arrangement of fresh daisies.

I asked the other hostesses before the party if they thought we should eat a slice of each variety -- just to be gracious, of course! And really, how could you choose just one when offered these delicious options: lemon, chocolate and traditional pound cake?

Lemon Pound Cake

Nancy Itson brought this cake, which she topped with fresh blackberries from her yard.


1 ½ cups butter, softened
3 cups sugar
8 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tablespoon plus 1 ½ teaspoons lemon extract
1 tablespoon plus 1 ½ teaspoons lemon juice
Cream butter, gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs; one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour, mixing well. Stir in lemon juice and extract. Pour batter into greased and floured Bundt pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour, 15 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes in pan.


¼ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon peel (optional)
Beat the sour cream and butter until well blended. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar. Beat in lemon juice & peel. Drizzle over cake.

Chocolate Pound Cake
Teri Phillips brought this cake Friday morning when we met at the church building to decorate for book club, and I wasn't sure it would make it to the meeting.

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons Crisco
¼ pound butter (1 stick)
3 cups sugar
3 cups flour
½ cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
5 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 ¼ cups milk
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Grease and flour Bundt or tube pan. Beat shortening and butter till blended. Add sugar gradually and beat until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating constantly. Beat in vanilla. Sift flour with the rest of the ingredients and add in thirds, alternating with thirds of milk. Pour in pan and bake for 1 ½ hours. Note: Can top with glaze or powdered sugar. Will have excess batter, so you can fill 6 cupcakes and bake.

Pound Cake
Kay Hilyer's pound cake is well known among family and friends.

1 cup Crisco
2 sticks butter
3 cups sugar
6 eggs
3 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon lemon extract
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cream Crisco, butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Alternate adding flour and milk. Add flavorings. Pour into greased and floured tube pan. Bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for 1 hour and 25 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean.

During our book club discussion, we talked about living in the South, the dynamics of mother-daughter relationships, and lost dreams. If you would like to reflect on any of those topics or share your thoughts about the book, feel free to discuss in the comments section.

Tomorrow I will reveal our new book club selection, so stop by to discover a great summer read!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Fresh Perspective


I asked one of our ladies, Louise Jones, to deliver the devotional Friday night at our spring book club meeting. I appreciate her willingness to share a few words with us and asked Louise if I could share her inspiring message with you here.

New Sides to Discover
by Louise Jones

When we read Savannah from Savannah by Denise Hildreth Jones, we were able to see Savannah see so many different sides of her mother. It probably reminded most of us of seeing different sides of our mothers. I think it’s only natural to start to see different sides of people as you grow, learn and mature.

I want us to think for a few minutes about seeing different sides of God.

When we are young, we are taught about God the Creator. Genesis tells us all about how God created the world, everything in it and all of us. We are also taught about God the victor. How many times did He lead the children of Israel to victory in the Old Testament? He made battles that seemed like they should have been lost, won! Just like the song says, there really is nothing my God cannot do!

When we are a little older, we see the loving and caring side of God. John 3:16 tells us that He gave His only begotten Son for you and me. We also learn more about God the judge. We learn a lot about God the judge in the Old Testament when God deals with the Israelites. However, in the New Testament, we learn about God as our judge, and we are told in Hebrews 9:27 that we will die and face a judgment. This causes my relationship with God to grow because I want to do better.

We are constantly growing, learning and maturing, so we are always going to be seeing more sides of God. We get to a point where we see God as a confidante. Isn’t it wonderful to be able to go to God and let it all out? You can pour your heart out to God, and the best part is that He wants to hear it. First Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to pray without ceasing! "All the time" means to tell God about every emotion we feel and thought that we think. How lovely, especially for ladies!

God the deliverer is also a side that you will see as you grow and mature. First Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” He can deliver us from temptation! And that is also assurance that we can do it! We can make it through the temptations that we face. What a wonderful God to give us the ability to overcome and also reassure us that we can!

God the Savior. Do we ever really fully understand that God is our Savior? Because of God we can look forward to a home in heaven ... a home and a place that we can’t even imagine! We can dream about what it will look like, but it’s going to be better than anything we can ever dream about. What a reward!

The book Savannah from Savannah doesn’t tell us much more about Savannah and how she grows, matures and learns. I can only imagine, though, that she went on to see many different sides of her mother -- many of which she might not have ever seen coming! I want to constantly challenge myself, and you, to constantly be growing and maturing in your relationship with God and to be looking for some sides of God that you have never seen before.

"Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders which Thou hast done, and Thy thoughts toward us; there is none to compare with Thee; if I would declare and speak of them, they would be too numerous to count" (Psalm 40:5).

Stop in tomorrow for dessert and discussion of Savannah from Savannah. Friday I will reveal our summer book club selection!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dinner with Savannah From Savannah

Come on in and make yourself at home!

If you stopped by yesterday, you saw the appetizer station that greeted guests when they stepped into the church lobby for our ladies book club meeting over the weekend. Our more formal approach to the appetizer table reflected the style of Victoria, a main character in our spring book selection, Savannah from Savannah by Denise Hildreth Jones. In contrast, the room where we shared dinner and discussion reflected the laid-back, youthful style of the book's heroine, Savannah.

Fresh daisies topped each table, further accessorized by items unique to Savannah's character.

Savannah was a budding newspaper reporter, so we wrapped our napkins around newspapers tied with twine, placed a rolled newspaper section on each table, and spread open newspapers across our potluck food table. Newsprint inspired a black-and-white color scheme, brightened with splashes of yellow and touches of green. One of the first things readers learn about Savannah is her passion for the Southern beverage of choice: Coca-Cola. So Teri Phillips arranged bouquets of fresh daisies in Coke glasses. Savannah loved flip-flops, so we positioned a pair on each table alongside the newspaper. We enjoy a great mix of ages in our book club, so the oldest lady at each table went home with the flowers and the youngest took the flip-flops. 


For this book club meeting, we developed a Southern menu plan and assigned several ladies to bring appetizers, bread, drinks and dessert. A basket of cornbread and honey butter topped each table, and we served Coke along with sweet tea, water and coffee. Guests were asked to bring a favorite Southern potluck dish. A few ladies questioned me the week before about what I meant by that, but since we worship in Montgomery, Ala., I told them it's what we always bring to fellowship meals. Several ladies shared their recipes, which we tucked under the plates. Find some of our potluck favorites below.

Homemade Cornbread
I made this cornbread for the gathering, a favorite recipe from deSha’s Restaurant in Lexington, Ky. One recipe yielded 24 corn muffins and a small rectangular casserole dish -- plenty for our group of nearly 30 ladies.
3 cups self-rising cornmeal
1/3 cup sugar
6 eggs
1 ½ cups vegetable oil
3 cups sour cream
2 2/3 cups cream style corn
1 ¼ cups butter, softened
½ cup honey
For cornbread: Combine first 6 ingredients in order listed; mix well. Pour into greased 9 x 13-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes. Makes 12 squares of cornbread.

For honey butter: Mix softened butter and honey together. Serve with warm cornbread.

Hash Brown Casserole
Kay Newman brought this delicious side dish. We knew each other by name, but met for the first time Friday night.

3/4 package frozen hash browns (2-pound size)
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 carton sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
1 small box Velveeta cheese
4-5 green onions, chopped
Combine all ingredients. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Let set about 20 minutes before serving. May be prepared the day before and baked later, or freezes well.

Fresh Corn Casserole
Our table raved about this delicious corn dish prepared by Michelle Bond.

8 ears of corn (still in the husk)
⅔ cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter (salted)
½ teaspoons salt to taste
Ground pepper to taste
Remove the corn from the husks. In a large, deep bowl, slice off the kernels of corn. With the dull side of the knife (or a regular dinner knife), press and scrape the cob all the way down to remove all the bits of kernel and creamy milk inside. Add heavy cream, salt to taste, a generous amount of ground pepper and butter; mix well. Pour mixture into a baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes or until thoroughly warmed through.

Pineapple Casserole
Julie Knapp brought this delightful dish, a great accompaniment to any meal.

½ cup sugar
3 Tbsp. flour
1 (20 oz.) can pineapple chunks, drained
3 Tbsp. pineapple juice
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
½ - 1 cup crushed buttery crackers
¼ cup melted butter
Mix flour and sugar with pineapple juice. Add pineapple chunks and cheese. Mix well and spoon into a greased 1 quart baking dish. Mix crushed crackers and butter together, and then spread over the pineapple mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. 4-6 servings

Chicken Casserole
This creamy, flavorful main dish from Donna Bentley hit the spot at our dinner.

2 cups died cooked chicken
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 cup cooked rice*
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced onion
1/2 cup almonds
2 tablespoon butter
1 cup Ritz crackers
Combine all ingredients except butter and cracker crumbs. Place in casserole. Mix butter and crumbs, and sprinkle on top. Bake 30-40 minutes at 350 degrees.

Chicken Spaghetti
Louise Jones contributed this dish, a great recipe to keep on-hand in the freezer for delivering to a sick friend or serving at family mealtime.
1 large bag of the thin spaghetti noodles
4 cooked chicken breasts (or if you are pressed for time, 1 precooked, whole rotisserie chicken from the grocery store)
1 pound Velveeta cheese
2 tablespoons of Italian seasoning
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 can Rotel tomatoes
8 ounces of shredded Mexican style cheese
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Shred chicken and set aside. Fill a large pot with water, and set it to boil. After the water is boiling, put in the noodles with a little bit of oil to make sure they don’t stick too much. Stir occasionally to keep them from attaching to the bottom of your pot, and cook just past al dente. Drain about half of the pasta water, then place back on a burner over low heat. Cut Velveeta Cheese into cubes, put in pot with noodles, and stir until melted. Then add cream of chicken soup, Rotel tomatoes and Italian seasoning; stir well. Pour shredded chicken into the noodle mixture,and simmer on low until all the cheese is melted. Then pour the entire pot into a 9×13 pan and sprinkle heavily with shredded cheese. Place the pan in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until all the cheese is melted on top and the sauce mixture is bubbling slightly. Let cool for about 10 minutes so the sauce will thicken up a bit and then serve.

Please go back for seconds, and stop back throughout the week to enjoy our book club desserts, devotional and discussion. And pop in Friday to find out our summer book selection!

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Savannah Welcome

Hey, Y'all!

Friday night I hosted our congregation's quarterly ladies book club with friends Missy Jones and Teri Phillips. Our book selection for spring, Savannah from Savannah by Denise Hildreth Jones, took us to the quintessential Southern city of Savannah, Ga., for the evening. The book's central characters, mother and daughter Victoria and Savannah Phillips, inspired our decor.

Southern belle Victoria inspired our appetizer table, and we hope she would approve of our Savannah welcome. An heirloom lace tablecloth topped a round table laden with some of our favorite southern appetizers. A bountiful floral arrangement, pink hat and chintz teapot reflected Victoria's gracious southern style, and fresh gardenias dotted the tables with fragrant touches of spring. For a signature touch, Missy added a card that bore this simple message:

Welcome to Savannah!
Victoria Phillips
Savannah Chamber of Commerce

Several of us prepared appetizers for the evening, and a few of the crowd favorites are pictured above. Of course, we couldn't have a party in the Low Country without inviting the First Lady of Savannah, Paula Deen. Along with Paula's Shore Is Good Seafood Dip, we served Deviled Cheese Balls with Crackers, Pickled Okra Finger Sandwiches, Corn Salad and Southern Lemonade. Recipes follow, so keep these in mind for upcoming springtime celebrations.

Missy Jones’ (Almost Homemade) Southern Lemonade
This looked so refreshing with fresh lemon slices floating in Missy's crystal beverage dispenser. Our party gave me another opportunity to use Joe's late grandmother's crystal punch cups.
Large jar of Country Time lemonade
1 cup sugar
Fresh lemons, sliced thin
Using the measuring cup in the lid, measure out enough powder for 3 quarts of lemonade. Pour in pitcher. Add sugar. Slowly add 2 quarts of water, stirring until completely dissolved. Float thin slices of lemon in the pitcher or use as a garnish on the glass. Better the next day.

Corn Salad
Sharon Lyle brought this recipe, a favorite from the Our Table to Yours University Church of Christ cookbook. We served it at the book club with corn chips alongside, and it was the most talked about dish of the evening.
2 (15 ounce) cans whole kernel corn, drained
2 cups grated Cheddar cheese
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup green bell pepper, chopped
½ cup red onion, chopped
1 (10.5 ounce) bag coarsely crushed chili-cheese corn chips
Mix first five ingredients and chill. Stir in corn chips just before serving. Yield: 8 servings.

Shore Is Good Seafood Dip
I brought this dip recipe from Paula Deen’s The Lady & Sons, Too! cookbook.

2 tablespoons butter
1 medium green bell pepper, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
Half of a 10 ¾ ounce can cream of shrimp soup (discard top half and use bottom part of soup)
1 cup mayonnaise
½ pound freshly grated Parmesan
6-ounce can crabmeat, picked free of any broken shells, drained
6 ounces shrimp, fresh or canned, drained
½ teaspoon white pepper
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the bell pepper, onion and celery, and saute for 2 minutes. In a bowl, combine the soup, mayonnaise, Parmesan, crabmeat, shrimp and pepper. Stir the sauteed vegetables inot the seafood mixture and spoon this mixture into a lightly greased 8 x 11-inch casserole dish. Bake for 30 minutes. Serve with toast points or crackers.

Deviled Cheese Balls
Can we ever have too many cheese ball variations in the South? Missy Jones brought this delicious version.

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese at room temperature
8-ounce block cream cheese at room temperature
4 ½ oounce can deviled ham
½ cup chopped green olives
½ cup finely chopped pecans
In a small bowl, blend together the cheddar and cream cheese. Beat in the ham and then stir in the olives. Refrigerate for at least two hours until firm enough to roll into a log. Shape into log and then roll in pecans. Wrap in saran wrap and refrigerate until time to serve. Serve with assorted crackers.

Pickled Okra and Dill Pickle Sandwiches
Missy Jones also brought this pretty appetizer, perfect for showers, receptions and Southern celebrations of all kinds.

One loaf of sliced white bread – very fresh
8-ounce block cream cheese – very soft
Pickled okra
Dill pickles
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
Cut crust off of bread and roll flat with rolling pin. Spread each piece of bread with a thin layer of cream cheese. Place pickle or okra on bread and roll up like a cigar. Using your finger, lightly spread more cream cheese on outside of bread. Roll in parsley. Cut into bite-sized pieces.

Thumbing through this cookbook I picked up as a souvenir during our family's trip to Savannah last spring gave us a lot of inspiration in planning our evening in Savannah. Find The Lady & Sons, Too!: A Whole Bunch of Recipes from Savannah discounted here.

Y'all come back tomorrow for Savannah-inspired dinner and decor!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

On My Toes

I am so excited for the weekend ahead -- and two great springtime events. Friday night I'll be participating in our congregation's ladies book club, and Saturday night I'll be attending the girls' ballet recital. I will be back next week to share all the details!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

New Blooms

Yesterday Joe treated Emma and me to a trip to our local garden center, where I fell in love with these pink and green hydrangeas. I look forward to enjoying this reblooming variety into the fall.

Joe is so sweet to indulge my need for pink, pink and more pink. Clockwise, from top left: Forever & Ever Hydrangea; Impatiens; Barbara Karst Bougainvillea; and the Painted Lady Hibiscus.

"Flowers ... are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1844

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bye-Bye, Baby Crib

Joe's aunt and uncle might have thought twice about loaning us their baby crib if they had known we would keep it for more than 10 years and fill it with four babies and many memories. Looking at the crib I remember lullabies, bedtime rituals and babies fresh from a bath.

At 4, Emma has long since abandoned the baby bed for a big girl bed. For months Joe has reminded me that we need to return the crib, but I have put him off saying I wanted to take pictures of the nursery before it grows up. So recently I re-hung the wispy tulle canopy my babies slumbered dreamily under (until I worried they were old enough to pull it down) -- and photographed the room as it was. And now I can look forward to the big girl room this space can become!

Watching our youngest child outgrow the baby stage has been bittersweet. But although I feel a twinge of sadness in parting with the crib, I take comfort knowing that ...

I can still keep the baby!

"The formative period for building character for eternity is in the nursery. The mother is queen of that realm and sways a scepter more potent than that of kings or priests." -- Author Unknown

Monday, May 17, 2010

Princess Invitations

I adore these first birthday invitations I just made for a little princess named Emily. I hope when she looks back at these one day, she will know she was the belle of the ball at her birthday celebration.

This is the version I made for Emily's guests. These were quite time consuming to produce, but I am so pleased with the end result. I think they look like something out of a storybook.

With extra tulle and pearl beading, this version will be a lovely keepsake for the Birthday Girl.

I'm sending these with hopes that Princess Emily will live happily ever after! 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Celebration Inspiration

Aren't these party hats darling?

Just this week I crossed cyber-paths with Boston party designer Kate Landers, and I think we might be two peas in a pod! Both of us discovered the joy of planning parties as children. At 5, I organized a surprise party for my kindergarten teacher and told my classmates what to bring. From age 10, Kate planned all of her younger sister's birthday parties. I think we both realized early on that the birthday party itself can be a gift, reminding our loved ones they are our cherished treasures.

Kate plans classic parties for children and has her own line of custom party goods. All of the products in this post are from her web site Kate Landers Events. From invitations and gift wrap to clothing and tableware, you will find so many treasures to swoon over.

You can see some of Kate's parties on her blog, and you can find even more inspiration on her newest site, Stylish Childrens Parties.

I am honored that Kate is featuring Emma's recent ballerina tea party as today's stylish party, and I look forward to exchanging more creative ideas in the future.

That's definitely worth putting on my party hat!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Gift of Tranquili-Tea

I must admit, I was feeling a little blue yesterday as I considered the mountains of laundry that have piled up since last week's flare-up of incapacitating back pain. I was frustrated knowing how difficult it is to catch up once I fall behind in this ongoing household task, and discouraged as I made my first trip to the laundry room -- my muscles already throbbing before the day's chores even began.

Then out of the corner of my eye I spied a pretty gift on my counter -- a Mother's Day surprise one of the ladies from my church had given me days before. Margie Austin -- an elder's wife, Bible class teacher and mentor to many young mothers in our congregation -- had sought me out before the holiday with a pretty package in hand. Inside I found a gold-rimmed teacup, a handful of peach tea bags, and a pretty little devotional book called Woman of God: Moments of Grace. Tying everything together was a Mother's Day card with this poem inside:

Mother's Day comes but once a year;
It's a time of happiness and of cheer
For all those ladies who raise their "crew" --
Sit down, relax, a cup of "T" you'll brew.

Life is full of all kinds of "T's" --
Uncertainty -- quality -- even anxiety.
To help you relax we have added for you
Tea leaves with flavor to get you through.

Enjoy the tea while you read the book;
These apply to us -- we just have to look.
May God bless you and your family
As you look to Him for all eternity.
What encouragement this thoughtful gift brought me on a day when I needed to exchange anxiety for tranquility! Within a few minutes, I was sitting down for a moment's rest with a cup of tea and my devotional book. The soothing words of one entry reminded me of John 16:33: "These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." It is comforting to remember that the worldly cares that so often weigh us down are only temporal. And somehow, knowing that one day my only task will be to praise God, makes all those other earthly tasks a bit more bearable.

I am thankful for an opportunity to pause for a cup of tea poured by a friend who has walked this road before me. Margie's godly example, giving spirit and encouraging nature remind me that God blesses our journey with special people who fill our cups with spirituali-tea. 

If you would like to share this gift of tranquili-tea with a special lady in your life, find the devotional book Woman of God: Moments of Grace by Diane Graham and Julie Norris here.

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