Monday, March 31, 2008

Mary Ashley's Prayer Tonight

Dear God,

Please make me an angel, a butterfly and a big mommy. Always love Daddy, always love Mommy, always love Carson and Christian, always love Emma.

In Jesus' name,

To Texas and Back

Our family is celebrating Joe's return home after nearly a week in Austin, Texas, to coach the law school's NTC teams in the National Trial Competition. Both teams swept the regional competition in February to move on to Nationals. Joe was so proud of his students' performance in Austin and said they really represented Faulkner well. One team finished in the top 20, and the other in the top four. The trial program has really grown in the past few years, which only enhances the law school's reputation. Joe is confident that his trial students will continue to do great things, so I'm sure he can make some good recommendations if you ever need a good trial lawyer!

The children and I had a busy week in Joe's absence with school, ballet, soccer practice and games, church, parties, school projects, and a stomach virus thrown in for good measure. Thankfully my mother-in-law spent a few days with us. Betty always comes ready to tackle laundry and ironing, and she is always eager to take the children to school in the morning. (That is such a gift!) The week was so much easier with Nana here. Emma stayed rested, and we all enjoyed visiting. I really appreciated the adult conversation during the day.

After a girls lunch out Thursday while the boys were in school, we visited Southern Homes & Gardens. Betty treated us to some new plants for spring, all in the loveliest shades of pink. The girls enjoyed looking at the flowers, fountains and statuary so much, you would have thought we paid admission to visit! They were all smiles and giggles as they explored the paths of our "secret garden." Before we left, Betty and the girls looked at patio furniture in the back of the store while I eyed all the pretty gift ware up front. From across the store I heard Mary Ashley calling, "Oh, Darling! Emma, come here, my darling! I'm over here, my darling!" A sweet end to a much-needed day out!

Preliminary rounds of the trial competition took place at the Texas State Capitol.

Austin night life as viewed from Joe's hotel room.

We'll enjoy pink hibiscus blooms all summer long, thanks to our trip to Southern Homes & Gardens.

And these dainty pink flowers will greet us each day in planters outside our kitchen doors.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Movin' on Down the Highway

I was driving down a three-lane stretch of highway recently and started to change lanes when I heard a loud HONNNNKKK behind me. I realized immediately that I had relied on my mirrors without turning around to check that the road was clear. So I swerved back into my lane to avoid a collision. I am generally a careful driver, so I felt terrible to have done something reckless. Thankfully, though, we were still wreckless!

My heart was still racing when from the back seat, 6-year-old Christian said, "Mom, that was s-o-o-o cool! You are a GR-R-REAT driver!"

From the middle seat Carson, age 8, muttered under his breath, "Yeah, except for about 10 seconds ago when you almost got us killed back there."

What a difference just two years makes in perspective! While Christian still thinks Mom is divine, Carson already realizes that I am only human. He observes foibles and notes frailties. But even when I disappoint Carson, I am thankful that his heavenly Father is perfect and unchanging. In fact, greater understanding only increases our admiration of God. Romans 11:33-36 reminds us,

"Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen."

Although sometimes I swerve, I hope my children see me striving to stay on the right path. And I pray that as they travel down life's highway, they will all realize that the journey is best -- and blessed -- with God in the driver's seat.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sweet Tarts

These light and refreshing fruit tarts add a punch of color to the tea table. Enjoy!

Easy Fruit Tarts
Frozen mini-pie shells
1 14-ounce can fat-free sweetened, condensed milk
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 8-ounce container fat-free whipped topping, thawed
Large can mandarin oranges, drained
2-3 kiwi, peeled and sliced
Fresh raspberries

Bake mini-pie shells according to package directions. Combine sweetened, condensed milk and lemon juice. Gently fold in whipped topping. Spoon mixture into mini-pie shells and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. Before serving, top each tart with a mandarin orange segment, a small slice of kiwi and a couple of raspberries.

Photo by Nathan Prichard
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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter!

We had a busy Easter weekend. Our family attended the Lads to Leaders annual convention in Atlanta with our church for the first time. It was heartwarming to see so many children reading scriptures and cultivating their talents to serve the Lord.

The children are so tired from our travels, they were not too pleased to pose for photos today. But I insisted, so they complied ... sort of. I snapped this one before heading out to church tonight. On our way I thanked the children for cooperating and told them I just needed to get an Easter picture of them. From the backseat, 8-year-old Carson piped up: "Needed? You mean wanted. It's not like you needed to have pictures of us to live." Oh, my sweet, sweet boy. He definitely has a lot to learn about what keeps us mommies going.

I hope you had a blessed Easter weekend -- and captured all the memories with lots of great photos!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Tea for Spring

Birds were chirping outside and the Alabama sky was clear blue as the children and I celebrated the first day of Spring with a tea party today. With our spring break week full of activities, I kept our menu simple. We shared fresh fruit, enjoyed leftover savories from Emma's recent Tea for 2, then sampled dainty treats from a local bakery. I can't think of a better way to welcome spring than sharing a cup of tea with my little bunnies! We had so much fun, we decided to take our tea party on the road. You can read about our tea-time surprise for someone who needed a touch of Spring in the post below. Happy Spring!

Fresh flowers brightened our tea table.

Christian loved our tea selection, Angel Falls Mist.

The children's eyes lit up when they saw this tiered server topped with petit fors, key lime tarts and mini eclairs.

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Tea to Go

A friend from church, Mrs. Dot, has been through so much in the past few months. In November, she had knee surgery. Just as she was beginning to get back on her feet, she re-injured the knee during physical therapy. So she had surgery again, then went to a rehab hospital before returning home. Weeks passed as she recovered slowly, still unable to walk or get out. Then a few weeks ago we learned that she fell out of her wheelchair and broke her leg. This meant another surgery, more time in the hospital, and even more recovery time.

My heart just broke for Mrs. Dot when I heard about this latest setback. I considered how discouraged I would be in her position and wondered what we could do to cheer her up. We all wished we could box up the hopefulness and beauty of the new season. So we decided that if Mrs. Dot could not get out to celebrate Spring, we would take Spring to her. The children decorated cards for her this morning, and we filled a pretty floral suitcase with some of our favorite afternoon tea treats. Flowers, a birds nest and fresh greenery added the finishing touches.

Mrs. Dot was so surprised to get an afternoon visit today. Emma and Mary Ashley twirled into the room, all smiles and giggles; and Carson and Christian followed to deliver our cheery gift. I hope the children -- so full of life and energy -- brought some sunshine into her world today. And as she explores our basket of teatime treats, I hope Mrs. Dot will be reminded that brighter days are on the way.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

For a Baby Bunny

A sweet chenille basket from Target was the inspiration for this baby shower gift for my friend Joely. This mother of two is expecting her third little girl this spring. What a blessing! Tucked into the basket with fresh flowers and a fuzzy bunny, these pink and green burp cloths are cute and practical. And they are so easy to make. Prefolded birdseye 3-ply cloth diapers with absorbent padding work well for this project. Just cut a strip of fabric slightly larger than the center panel of the diaper, and press the ends under. Sew the fabric to the center panel, then stitch on strips of rick rack to cover the seams. A monogram or embroidered design finishes off the burp cloth with sweet detail. An Easter surprise for a baby bunny I can't wait to snuggle!

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Upcoming Ladies Event

One of the unexpected blessings I've discovered from blogging is connecting with other mothers and sisters in Christ. I am so glad we have this avenue of sharing encouragement with one another. Dawn Pace from Warner Robins, Ga., has visited the blog and asked that I share information about her congregation's upcoming ladies day. The Warner Robins Church of Christ will host a ladies day April 12th. Speaker Beverly Watkins will address the themes "Do What You Can" and "Seasons of Our Lives." For more information, visit Dawn's blog.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Good Eggs

The children's painted eggs added a touch of springtime fun to the table at our Easter brunch with family last year.

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The Painted Egg

One of my favorite springtime traditions is taking the children to a nearby pottery studio to paint Easter eggs. Since we began this tradition several years ago, our collection has really grown! I display the eggs year-round in a pretty bowl. It is fun to look through the eggs to see how the children's tastes and techniques have evolved from year to year. This trip was special because it was the first year that all four children were old enough to paint. Last year 1-year-old Emma added her hand print to a monogrammed egg, but this year at 2 she felt so grownup joining her older brothers and sister at the big kids table. It was a delightful afternoon creating Easter eggs -- and memories of family fun.

Carson, our most serious artist, put the most time into his egg.

Christian chose a palette of tropical colors, a good match for his sunny disposition.

Mary Ashley's colors were soft and sweet, just like her.

Daddy showed Emma how to paint. She loved dipping her brush into the paint!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Expecting Blooms

While rummaging through old photographs recently, I came across these images Mary Ashley and I took of our hydrangeas last spring. I fell in love with hydrangeas when Joe and I were dating and he took me home to Georgia to visit his parents. His mother's hydrangeas bloom in profusion at their lakeside home. Well established and cared for, Betty's hydrangeas are so breathtakingly beautiful that they took first and second place in the state flower show. Blossoms in the loveliest shades of pink, purple and blue hang heavy on the bushes lining their walkway to the dock. The living was easy as Joe and I sipped sweet tea on the porch during our courtship, cooled by gentle breezes wafting in from the lake. Watching the hydrangeas sway in the wind, I couldn't imagine a more perfect spring day.

So when Joe and I moved to Alabama several years ago, I knew that hydrangeas were a must for a gracious Southern home. With my mother-in-law's guidance we planted hydrangeas, and Joe has faithfully watered and fertilized our tender plants. We were so excited when we discovered our first blooms, we debated the merits of cutting them to arrange inside or leaving them to enjoy outside.

Each year we find a few more blossoms on our hydrangeas, and I had already been looking forward to their blooming this spring. That is, until Joe went outside one day this week and discovered 6-year-old Christian attacking our hydrangeas with a golf club. I asked Christian why he beat my beloved hydrangeas, and he looked confused. He apologized, but then muttered, "But they were just sticks, anyway."

He was right. Those hydrangeas were nothing to look at in winter. They looked like a lifeless, gangly pile of sticks. And for a little boy looking for something to swing a stick at, they looked like a perfect target.

This week I have been mourning the blossoms I was expecting this spring, but my beaten-down hydrangeas have me thinking about the more important garden I'm tending in this season of motherhood. It is my job to nurture and fertilize the tender plants God has placed in my garden. Even as their mother, I cannot fully anticipate the growth the Master Gardener has in store for my four. Especially when their actions frustrate or disappoint me, anger tempts me to lash out. Harsh words and cutting looks could beat them down like sticks, but the Gardener encourages me to look toward the blooms and lovingly prune instead. Tending this garden is not always easy, but I know that He will reward my efforts.

One spring day my little Christian will come home a strong young man, with a girl he hopes to marry. When he does I hope to gather all four children together to sip sweet tea in the garden. As we admire the hydrangeas that have grown so big since their youth, we'll talk about their lives and where the Lord is leading them. As a gentle breeze sways blossoms in the loveliest shades of pink, purple and blue, my gaze will turn back to Joe. Our eyes will meet, and we will know that this is really the perfect spring day. And my heart will smile as I survey my life's garden, knowing the greatest blessing of all is seeing my children bloom.

"Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it."

(Proverbs 22:6 NASB)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Spring for a Cupcake

And cupcakes for Spring! I made cupcakes for Christian's Easter party at school today and felt inspired to make several varieties. I wanted to kick up the cuteness, so I cut strips of scrapbook paper and wrapped them around the cupcakes to make colorful sleeves. I secured each paper seam with tape. Then I taped a piece of ribbon to the paper seam, wrapped it around the cupcake and finished it off with a bow. I have three cupcake designs to share. I frosted all the cupcakes with green icing, then used cake decorating tip 233 to cover them with grass. I hope you will enjoy this sweet taste of spring!

First, I made bunny topiaries by twisting pretzel rods into yellow marshmallow bunnies and inserting one into each cupcake. Twenty of these bunny topiary cupcakes hopped over to Christian's kindergarten class this morning, but one stayed home to help fill my next cupcake design.

This Easter basket cupcake was easy to assemble. After adding the paper sleeve, I cut a thinner strip of scrapbook paper and slid each end between the cupcake and sleeve to make the handle. The scrapbook paper I chose has designs on both sides, so even the underside of the handle has a cute detail. Jellybeans fill the basket with treats, and a ribbon bow secured to a floral pick and inserted into the cupcake adds the final touch. I have one final cupcake to share, an idea I have been working on for a while. I can't wait for you to see it!

But first, I almost forgot to draw a name for my Pink Princess Cookbook giveaway. Four-year-old Mary Ashley was happy to lend a hand for the drawing. And the winner is ...


Blogging has helped me get to know Louise, a sweet girl from my congregation. She is a recent college graduate and newlywed. Reading her blog takes me back to the first few years of my marriage when Joe was in law school. Louise, I hope you will enjoy the cookbook!

And I hope all of you will enjoy my final cupcake design: a topiary tree cupcake. I have been wanting to perfect this design for a while. I think topiaries are so lovely! Wouldn't a topiary cupcake make a sweet place card at afternoon tea? To make these I inserted a popscicle stick into a marshmallow, then covered it with green icing leaves piped on with cake decorating tip 352. Tip 101S made the tiniest of roses to add a touch of pink. A name piped onto a saucer with tip 4 completes the design. Let's share a cupcake to welcome spring!

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Gift for You

Chocolate chip scones served with strawberry preserves and almond cream were a hit at Emma's recent Tea for 2, so I thought I would share the recipes here. The owner of Gracie's Tea Room in Montgomery, Ala., told me how to make almond cream several years ago. It is so-o-o good! And the scones are adapted from a recipe in Pink Princess Cookbook by Barbara Beery. This is a kid-friendly cookbook no princess should be without, so leave a comment below to enter a drawing for a copy of the book. I will draw a number out of a teacup this Thursday. I plan to have the cookbook to you before next Thursday, when I hope you will celebrate the first day of spring with a cup of tea.

Gracie's Almond Cream

1 cup whipping cream

1 teaspoon almond extract

1/4 cup powdered sugar

Combine cream and extract. Whip until almost stiff, then add powdered sugar and whip until stiff. (Note: I sometimes substitute vanilla for almond extract. Other extracts would work well, too.)

Chocolate Chip Scones

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk chocolate chips

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whipping cream

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt until well combined. Add chocolate chips and toss to coat with flour mixture. Pour 1 cup whipping cream into the mixture, stirring just until ingredients are moistened. Turn mixture out onto lightly floured surface. Knead gently until soft dough forms (about 2 minutes). Pat dough out to about 1 inch thick. Cut out into assorted shapes. Place scones 1 inch apart on two foil-lined baking sheets that have been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Brush each scone with the remaining 2 tablespoons whipping cream. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until very lightly browned. Serve warm with strawberry preserves and cream.

Photo by Nathan Prichard

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Rites of Spring

After worship this morning we enjoyed our annual church Easter egg hunt and picnic. It was a lot of fun and a sure sign that spring is on the way! All four children found their own joy at the event. Carson loved running and playing ball with the bigger boys, while Christian was our most serious hunter. He was going for the golden egg this year, but feels pretty good about coming in third. (I'm hoping that picking up toys and finding lost tennis shoes will be good training for next year!) Mary Ashley filled her basket, but she was more concerned with quality than quantity, picking up mostly pink and purple eggs. The highlight of her day was sitting by her boyfriend, Austin, at lunch. And Emma, of course, enjoyed the abundance of sweets. She sampled as many cookies and brownies from the dessert table as she could reach. Then she was so delighted to discover that all the Easter eggs were filled with candy!

Allison captured these beautiful images of the girls. You can see more of her great photography here. Thank you, Allison, for giving me the "blogging rights" to these sweet photos!

Thanks to Lara and Jason for planning the Easter egg hunt. Our morning began feeling cold and wintry, but the warmth of our gathering must have affected our weather. Now birds are chirping outside, and we are experiencing a lovely, springlike day. Easter is on its way!

Photos by Allison Hilyer

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Baskets of Blessings

Photos by Allison Hilyer

Sweet Mary Ashley

Photos by Allison Hilyer
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Emma Baby

Photos by Allison Hilyer

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