Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wild About Pottery

When my best girlfriend, Vonda, and I get together, I know we will leave eager to tackle some new creative projects. This past weekend was no exception. When I spied this mug and plate in her cupboard, I knew they were just too cute not to share.

Inspired by a similar set she found in a pricey boutique, Vonda set out to recreate the look at a local pottery studio. She said the design was easy to accomplish. She simply drew the zebra stripes on with a pencil, then filled them in with black paint. A special paint pen was easier to use than a brush for the stripes. Lime green painted around the rims and accented with white polka dots makes the design pop.

On future trips to paint pottery, Vonda plans to go wild again. And as she adds to her collection of zebra plates, I predict that her guests will go wild for this whimsical style too.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Down a Country Road

You never know the blessings that await you when you venture down a country road. I spent a lovely weekend roaming some of the loveliest back roads of Tennessee and Kentucky.

I spent Friday night with my sister, Jennifer, in Nashville. Our time together was so brief, it only made me long for another visit! Saturday morning I drove to the lovely town of Portland, Tenn., for a ladies day. I was eager to meet all the ladies of the Fountain Head Church of Christ, and I especially couldn't wait to visit with Mrs. Jewell Hearn, a longtime friend of the Lester family. My best girlfriend, Vonda, came down for the day, and I spent Saturday night with her in Kentucky. Although we had not seen each other for more than a year, Vonda and I picked right up as if no time had passed. And I enjoyed spending time with her husband, Mike, and their sweet little girl, Hannah.

This was a glorious weekend to celebrate sisters of all kinds -- family members bound since birth, longtime girlfriends, and new found friends. Different types of sisters, but all God given.

During the ladies day I was struck by the beautiful scene across the street from the church building. A weathered gray barn stood tall in a field of yellow, set against the backdrop of distant trees and a brilliant blue sky. Late in the afternoon, Vonda and I crossed the country road to get a better look. As we viewed the autumn splendor stretched out before us, I was reminded of the women my weekend celebrated -- vibrant, colorful, ever changing, and most of all, more beautiful with each passing season.

What a blessing it is to walk down a country road with your sister by your side.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Day of Friendship

For an effortless centerpiece, top a cake plate with candles, flowers and greenery. For directions in making a cake plate, see this post.

I am packing up my cake plate and heading north this weekend to speak for a ladies day at the Fountain Head Church of Christ in Portland, Tenn. If you live near the Tennessee-Kentucky border, please join us tomorrow morning for an uplifting day celebrating the warmth of friendship. Registration begins at 9 a.m., lessons begin at 9:30, and we will conclude the day with lunch.

I believe our Christian sisters are among our greatest blessing in this life. Andrew M. Greeley described the power of friendship: "There is an electricity about a friendship relationship. We are both more relaxed and more sensitive, more creative and more reflective, more energetic and more casual, more excited and more serene. It is as though when we come in contact with our friend we enter into a different environment."

I am hoping our weekend together will be like a spa experience for the soul. Relaxed by prayer, refreshed by fellowship, and rejuvenated by the Word, I think this weekend will be just what we need.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Moments at Play

We are thankful for mild fall weather that draws us outside for parks, picnics and play.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Little Giggles

Just for Kicks. We had a busy afternoon shuttling the children to after-school activities yesterday. When Joe took 6-year-old Christian to soccer practice, he popped out of the back seat with a new strategy for easing the time crunch. "Dad, Dad," he began, "Do you think next time you take me to soccer practice I could sit in the front seat so I'll get to practice earlier?"

A Blonde Moment. I got my hair cut and colored yesterday, and I was proud to show 2-year-old Emma my shorter style. I felt pretty sassy with my new chin-length haircut and said, "Look, Emma, Mommy's hair looks like yours now!" Emma looked me over carefully, then wrinkled her nose. "No, Mommy," she said, shaking her head. "My hair yellow. Your hair ... green."

A Classic Carson Memory. When Carson was 3, he came into the bathroom as I was getting ready for church. "Oh, Mommy," he said sweetly, "You look so pretty in your flower shirt!" I basked in the glow of this sweet compliment. I should have let the subject drop, but I was hungry for more. "So, Carson," I asked, "Of all the girls that you know, who is the prettiest girl in the world?" And without a moment's hesitation, my beloved firstborn replied, "Aunt Jennifer!"

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Peanut Butter Pie

One of Carson's favorite memories is the family time we shared when our power was knocked out by a hurricane a couple of years ago. What could have been a stressful week without electricity turned into a special bonding time, as we sat around the kitchen table playing dominoes and eating peanut butter pie by candlelight. There must be power in this peanut butter pie recipe because to this day Carson's face lights up when we share this favorite family dessert.

Peanut Butter Pie
8 ounces fat-free cream cheese
8 packets artificial sweetener
1 cup light peanut butter
2 tablespoons skim milk
1 16-ounce carton fat-free whipped topping
2 chocolate graham cracker crusts
Whipped topping and chocolate sandwich cookies, optional
Cream cheese, artificial sweetener and milk until light and fluffy. Add peanut butter and beat until smooth. Fold whipped topping into peanut butter mixture and pour into crusts. Chill 5 to 6 hours or overnight. Garnish with whipped topping and crushed chocolate sandwich cookies, if desired. (This pie freezes well and will keep frozen at least 2 to 3 months.)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fall Fashion Finds

A new season brings the excitement of new clothing options, but along with the fun comes the challenge of dressing children on a budget. Although I love shopping at trunk shows and trendy boutiques as much as the next mom, I also enjoy finding ways to achieve the latest looks for less. Here are some of my favorite fall fashion finds for the girls so far this year.

The girls are sporting new hair bows in all these photos. I found a variety of reversible polka dotted ribbons at The Ribbon Spot. Register as a new customer to claim 10 percent off your first order here.

These interlock frill bottom pants from Monag are sure to be among our favorites this season. Available in a variety of colors, you'll find these pants in sizes 3 to 18 months for $10.25, and sizes 2 to 6 for $12.75. Monag offers premium quality blanks in infant, youth and adult sizes. And shipping is free for retail orders over $75.

Here turquoise frill bottom pants from Monag are paired with pink polka dotted tops from Wal-Mart. Priced at $3.50 each, knit tops and bottoms from Wal-Mart are a great value.

Monograms dress up solid and polka dotted tops from Wal-Mart. The pink tops are paired with brown polka dotted pants, also from Wal-Mart. Turquoise frill bottom pants from Monag.

Local sewing shops can be a great resource for quality clothing. Beth's Heirloom Sewing at 860 Blake Road in Wetumpka (334-514-2448) offers the same brand of tees as Hollywood Baby, but the prices are much lower. With a recent buy-2-get-1-free offer, you could get three long-sleeve tees for $34 at Beth's. Above, Emma sports a soft pink short-sleeved tee from Beth's and pink knit pants from Wal-Mart.

Above, an applique from eBay store Kabo Designs dresses up Mary Ashley's white long-sleeved tee from Beth's and pink knit pants from Wal-Mart. Kabo Designs is offering a buy-2-get-1-free sale on embroidery designs. Plus, get free delivery of embroidery designs by choosing e-mail delivery through Kabo's classified ad listing.

Do you have a fall fashion find you would like to share?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Let's Do Lunch! (And Other Bloggy Business)

It's time for a girls day out! If you love blogging and live in the Montgomery, Ala., area, plan to join us for lunch at Eastside Grille on Saturday, October 4th, at 11 a.m. Whether you have a blog, are thinking about starting one, or just love reading them, this will be a great opportunity to spend some time together. My friend Kristi is organizing our blog party, so stop by her blog to let her know if you can attend. I hope to see you there!

In other bloggy business:

(1) Have you downloaded the latest version of Google's Picasa photo editing software? With the updated program, you can touch-up photos, add text and make a variety of collages. Picasa is user friendly, and best of all, it's free! You can download it here.

(2) I have been tagged by Suzy of Belgrade, Serbia, to share seven random or interesting facts about myself.

1. I love planning birthday parties. When I was in kindergarten, I organized a surprise birthday party for my teacher and assigned my classmates items to bring.

2. I was born in North Dakota, but have lived most of my life in the South.

3. I am a preacher's daughter, and I was never rebellious.

4. I am a daddy's girl. My dad is the godliest man I know. (Maybe that explains #3.)

5. The day I met my husband in college, I called my best friend back home and told her that if this guy ever asked me out, I knew we would get married. He did, and we did!

6. I have such a sweet tooth, I am thinking of joining a friend in giving up sugar for a while.

7. I love decorating cakes. That could make #6 more difficult.

(3) And thank you to Stephanie and Judy for these awards! I have found these kindred spirits through blogging and appreciate their encouragement. Thanks, ladies!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Family Split

This is one family split that is sure to bring everyone together.

Instead of making individual ice cream treats for my family last week, I combined all the desserts into one huge banana split. This made for an impressive presentation -- and only one bowl to wash!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Good Apples

Some parents may swell with pride to see their child at bat. Others may get a lump in their throat at the school spelling bee. My eyes fill with tears to see Mary Ashley carrying a bouquet of flowers in her little fist. At 4, as she picks flowers she arranges them in her hand as she goes. So when she brings them to me, she already has a lovely, balanced bouquet that requires little adjustment.

I knew Mary Ashley would be eager to gather flowers from our azalea bushes for the party we hosted recently. One of her arrangements is pictured above.

But I didn't realize that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree with 2-year-old Emma. She was also excited about our pretty floral arrangements and vases filled with fresh green apples. So she left her mark on one of our displays, as well.

OK, so technically it was a bite mark, but I think she showed some artistic flair!

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Walk in the Park

Can you believe Mary Ashley and Emma started to cry when I picked them up from preschool with our picnic basket packed for lunch at Southern Homes and Gardens? The girls were intent on eating at McDonald's. But, as it turns out, our garden tea party was a Happy Meal after all.

Friday, September 12, 2008

13 Going on 30s

When 13-year-old Kylee joined our dinner group for her surprise birthday party this week, I wanted to let her know that we grown-up ladies can relate to her experiences as a teenage girl. And I knew our group would have a lot of laughs revisiting some of our favorite teenage memories.

Do you remember this "fortune teller" game we used to play as middle-school girls? Well, in our version it became more of a history teller. I put Kylee in charge of the teller to keep her involved in the game. The other guests chose numbers, and Kylee moved the teller moved back and forth accordingly. Then guests chose another number to determine their question.

Here are our questions. I would love to hear your answers! I'll give you mine in the comments section.

  • Who was your celebrity crush?
  • What was your favorite slumber party movie?
  • Share a favorite teenage memory.
  • If you could talk to yourself at 13, what would you say?

My 9-year-old son, Carson, was eager to take a break from working in the yard to remind me how to make "fortune tellers." A 12" x 12" piece of scrapbook paper made our teller a cute addition to the birthday decor.

1. Lay your paper face down.

2. Fold each corner to the center.

3. Fold each corner to the center again.

4. Turn the paper over.

5. Fold each corner to the center again.

6. Fold the paper in half to make a crease.

7. Open the square, and fold the paper in half again to make a perpendicular crease.

8. Open the teller, and ease your fingers into the four openings.

9. Write numbers on the outside corners and questions on the inside flaps.

My younger children were so interested in watching Carson make this teller that I'm thinking we'll make one to keep at the family dinner table for a fun, low-key way to share tidbits about our day.


Photos by Allison Hilyer

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Memo Bored?

Then update your space with a new memo board. I hope black and white hounds tooth fabric, hot pink accents and a sharp black frame will compliment 13-year-old Kylee's new teenage bedroom decor. I made this gift for Kylee's surprise birthday party and hung it over our buffet during the party. With a bright pink monogram, a copy of the party invitation and a photo of the guest of honor, I hope it let Kylee know that Monday night was all about celebrating the exciting days to come in her teenage years.

To make a memo board, use spray adhesive to coat a piece of wood, cardboard or another sturdy material cut to fit the size of your chosen frame. (I used the acrylic insert that came with the frame.) Allow the glue to get tacky, then cover the insert with batting. If you wish to personalize the memo board, monogram the fabric and play with positioning the fabric before putting it in the frame. Wrap the insert with fabric, pull it taut and secure it with hot glue. Then create a lattice design across the board, weaving ribbons across the board and securing them to the back of the board with tape or another adhesive. Play with this to determine the appropriate spacing before securing the ribbons on the back. Finally, place the insert in the frame and replace the back of the frame to complete the memo board.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Gift Box

Small hat-box style gift boxes marked each place at Kylee's surprise birthday party. For this project, I purchased round wooden boxes from the craft store and painted the inside of each box and lid with two coats of pink craft paint, allowing the paint to dry after each coat.

Then I covered the outside of the box with fabric. I cut three pieces of fabric for each box: a slightly larger circle for the top of the lid, a thinner band for the rim of the lid, and a wider strip for the box.

First, I pressed the fabric then turned it pattern-side down. I traced the top of the lid with a fabric-marking pen and cut out the circle slightly larger than my pattern. I coated the back of the fabric with spray adhesive and allowed the glue to get tacky. Then I centered the lid on the fabric and smoothed out any wrinkles. My circle of fabric was larger than the top of the lid, so I used scissors to clip little slits around the perimeter. Then I smoothed the excess fabric down onto the rim of the lid.

Next, I cut pieces to make bands to cover the rim of the lid. These strips were wider than the rim and slightly longer than the circumference of the box. I pressed these strips flat, turning under the raw edges, then hot glued them around the rim. I tried to keep a sharp edge to give the top of the box a clean, finished look.

I left the lid to dry while I cut pieces to wrap around the sides of the box. These strips were wide enough to cover the sides, with excess fabric to overlap the top and tuck under the bottom. I sprayed these strips with spray adhesive and allowed the glue to get tacky. Then I wrapped the box and smoothed the fabric around the sides. I tucked excess fabric to the inside of the box and smoothed out wrinkles. Then I cut slits in the fabric extending below the box to make it easier to tuck under the bottom. After smoothing the fabric to the underside of the box, I set the box aside to dry.

For the final step, I hot glued rickrack to the inside of the box to cover the raw edge of fabric. Then the completed box was ready to be filled, wrapped with ribbon, and placed on the table.

Delicate soap-petal roses filled each gift box. I found these at Dollar Tree packaged in clear boxes. Wouldn't they make a lovely party favor as is?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

For the Love of Kylee

The daughter of a friend from church, Kylee's sweet spirit and pure heart have endeared her to the ladies in my dinner group. So in celebration of her 13th birthday, we planned a surprise party in her honor. I hope our evening of fun reminded Kylee how special she is to all of us. And even more, I hope it showed her she has a support group of women who will be there for her through her teenage years and beyond.

A pink and green color palette set a table that was festive, feminine and fresh.

Little touches brought this fun tablescape together. Decorator fabric cut with pinking shears made a lovely tablecloth. Name tags tied to the stems of our tea glasses served as place cards, but allowed us to take our drinks from the table without confusing glasses. And using preppy argyle-patterned paper and dotting our I's with hearts added youthful details. Pink and white balloons hung over the table and tied to Kylee's chair added punches of color. Lake photos of Kylee taken by my friend Allison and glued to card stock brightened each guest's place, while a keepsake party invitation on Kylee's plate let our honoree in on the surprise. Apples, candles and fabric-covered boxes added color to the table. And our showstopping centerpiece was Kylee's cake, a luscious strawberry cake covered in ruffles of buttercream icing ribbons and topped with green leaves, pink rosebuds and 13 peppermint striped candles.

The Menu
Apples and Caramel Dip
Creamy Onion and Pepper Dip with Tortilla Chips
Frozen Strawberry Salad
Poppy Seed Chicken Casserole
Green Beans
Mashed Potatoes
Pineapple au Gratin
Yeast Rolls
Strawberry Cake with Buttercream Icing
Strawberry Swirl Ice Cream

The Recipes
A few of you have requested the party recipes. I kept this party simple with easy appetizers and several make-ahead dishes. And Kylee's mom, Jamie, brought her famous mashed potatoes. You can find my frozen strawberry salad recipe in a previous post. I serve this refreshing salad often because I can make it days before the party, and it adds a sweet touch of pink to the table.

Here are the recipes for poppy seed chicken, pineapple au gratin and buttercream icing. Poppy seed chicken is a creamy chicken casserole. Some might find it bland, but it is the ultimate comfort food to me! Pineapple au gratin is a delicious accompaniment to nearly any meal. And it is quick to put together in a pinch. It took two recipes of the buttercream icing recipe below to complete Kylee's cake, but all those fluffy, feminine ruffles were definitely "the icing on the cake" for our meal -- a perfect southern celebration!

Poppy Seed Chicken
6-8 chicken breasts
2 cans cream of chicken soup
16 ounces sour cream
1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 stick margarine or butter, melted
Boil chicken, and shred into bite-size pieces. Mix soup and sour cream, and stir in chicken. Spoon mixture into a greased 9" x 13" casserole dish. Sprinkle crushed crackers over the chicken mixture, then sprinkle poppy seeds over the top. Drizzle melted margarine over the top. Bake at 350 degrees until bubbly. (This is a great make-ahead dish, and making it the night before enhances the flavor. In our area, many people serve poppy seed chicken over white rice.)

Pineapple Au Gratin
2 large cans pineapple tidbits in own juice, well drained
1 cup sugar
5 T. flour
1 ½ cups grated medium cheddar cheese
¾ cup crushed Ritz crackers
1 stick margarine, melted
Combine flour, sugar and pineapple. Pour into a greased baking dish (2 qt.). Sprinkle cheese on top, and cracker crumbs on top of cheese. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Buttercream Icing
1 cup shortening
2 sticks margarine
3 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons clear imitation vanilla extract
2 lb. 10X confectioners sugar
With an electric mixer, cream shortening, margarine, milk and vanilla. Gradually beat in sugar until smooth.

Photos of Kylee by Allison Hilyer

Monday, September 8, 2008


Can you keep a secret? Preppy pink and green invitations announce a surprise birthday party tonight for the daughter of a friend. Every day this week I'll be posting party details, craft ideas and a fun mixer to take us back to our teenage years!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Christian Woman & Me

My world stops when Christian Woman magazine arrives, and I read most issues cover to cover before the day is through. I pore over each article, amazed at the stories of faithfulness and inspiration that fill each page.

I first discovered Christian Woman when I was in high school and my grandmother shared a stack of back issues with my mother. I enjoyed reading about the joys, struggles and lessons learned by others. So when I left for college and my parents offered to give me a subscription to the magazine of my choice, the decision was easy. I chose Glamour.

But within a couple of issues, I realized this magazine did not reflect my values. So I asked my parents to cancel that subscription and order Christian Woman instead. From that point on, each issue of CW was like a gift in my mailbox.

As I neared graduation, I began to realize that of all the jobs I could pursue, what I really wanted most was to work for Christian Woman. I was thrilled when this dream became a reality. I joined the editorial department of Gospel Advocate Publishers after graduation, and I have continued my relationship with CW for more than a decade.

So it meant a lot to me when the editor invited me to write the keynote article for the Sept./Oct. issue. And she wanted to feature me on the cover. The cover? I couldn't believe it! So earlier this summer I planned a trip to the editorial office. I felt like queen for a day at our photo shoot, and I loved visiting with friends at the GA afterward.

I hoped I would miraculously look young, rested and 20 pounds lighter in the photo. In the days leading up to the magazine's release, I actually dreamed that instead of using a photo from our shoot, the graphic designer decided to use my horrible seventh-grade school picture. Poodle haircut, braces, bad complexion, ratty headband and all!

So when this latest gift arrived in my mailbox, my world stopped. But this time I lingered at the cover before delving into the magazine. I do a double-take each time I see the Sept./Oct. issue on my bedside table, and I can't help but giggle to see myself smiling back at me. I am so thankful for Christian Woman magazine and the role it has played in my Christian walk. Amazed by the stories of faithfulness and inspiration it has brought to my life, I look forward to poring over its pages for many years to come.

This is the Sept./Oct. 2008 issue of Christian Woman magazine. Subscriptions are available through Gospel Advocate Publishers online or by calling (800) 251-8446.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Southern Ladies in Training

I enjoyed an afternoon of shopping with my little Southern ladies in training, 4-year-old Mary Ashley and 2-year-old Emma. We hit several of my favorite spots along the way, but I especially enjoyed our stop at Southern Homes and Gardens in Montgomery. I took my time meandering through the lovely displays, admiring all the furniture, serving pieces and gift ware. The expansive showroom was quiet until newly potty-trained Emma told me she needed to go to the bathroom.

Immediately we headed toward the bathroom at the front of the store. As we made our way across the showroom, Emma called out, "Mommy! I need to go poo-poo! I need poo-poo! I go poo-poo, Mommy!"

My face turned many shades of red as she repeated this over and over. "Emma," I chided her gently, "I heard you. You don't need to keep repeating it. It's just not polite."

My little Southern belle's countenance drooped for a moment, and she fell silent. Then suddenly she brightened. Emma called out at the top of her voice, "May I go poo-poo, puh-lease? I need to go poo-poo, please! I go poo-poo, please!"

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Traveling Mug

"A cup of coffee shared with a friend is happiness tasted and time well spent."

This travel mug will be heading soon to Tammy, a homeschooling mom of two from Tennessee. She is new to blogging, and I'm so glad she stopped by last week during my Blog Around the World day. Whether she favors coffee, tea or hot chocolate, I hope Tammy will enjoy sipping something hot on a beautiful, crisp autumn day in Tennessee. And even more, I hope she savors the warmth of friendship shared across the miles.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Passing the Salsa

We enjoyed dinner out recently at a favorite Mexican restaurant, and I sat between 4-year-old Mary Ashley and 6-year-old Christian. After a busy week, it felt great to sit down together as a family. As we munched on chips and salsa, Mary Ashley gave me a sweet smile. Dipping her chip into the queso, she told me, "Mommy, when I grow up and I live in a tree house, I'm going to make a flower cake, and if you're still alive then, I will give it to you."

Her statement caught me by surprise, and Christian and I laughed heartily.

"Mary, Mary," her wiser older brother said, shaking his head, "it is very unlikely that Mom will still be alive when you grow up."

Heh-heh-huh? ... Before I go, remind me to leave my share of the chips and salsa to Carson and Emma.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day

It was so much fun welcoming new friends for Blog Around the World last week. I appreciate all the sweet comments, and I look forward to visiting every one of you in return. Joe pried me away from the computer long enough to pack our bags for one last weekend at the beach before summer's end. Sun, sand, seafood and end-of-summer sales provided the perfect combination for celebrating the holiday weekend. Happy Labor Day!

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