Thursday, October 30, 2008

October Luncheon

Mothers at our preschool gather in the halls each day to pick up our children, but many of us only know each other as "Will's mom" or "Kristy's mom." I thought it would be fun to get to know each other outside of school, so we invited Mary Ashley's class of 17 to join us for a luncheon and play date after school yesterday. It was a lot of fun for the children, and now we moms know each other by name.

To make hosting a mid-week party easier, I incorporated several time-saving elements into my plans. First, I made lunch for the mothers and asked them to bring sack lunches for their children. Focusing solely on a ladies lunch kept menu planning and food preparation simple. I knew that most of the children would be too excited to eat much anyway, so those who preferred friends to food could take their lunch boxes home after the party. Decorations were kept simple with washable quilts. Used as tablecloths, quilts add warmth to the setting with the time-saving benefit that they don't need to be ironed. A large quilt spread on the grass made a great picnic area for the children, and pretty weather allowed for lots of outside play.

A simple menu celebrated autumn's splendor.

I love preparing food for women because they are always so appreciative of the effort. I was so pleased to offer them one of my best soup recipes yesterday, but since I was tripling my recipe I used my biggest pan instead of the higher quality pan I usually use. So some of my vegetables stuck to the bottom of the pan and burned. I was disappointed in the way the soup turned out, but the ladies were so gracious about it. I am sharing the recipes from our meal today, along with the original soup recipe as I prepare it for my family.

Cranberry-Apple Cider

1 gallon cranberry-apple juice blend
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 lemon, thinly sliced

Bring all ingredients to boil, and simmer uncovered for at least 30 minutes. Serve warm.

The Great Pumpkin Cheese Ball

I loved my mother's cheese log recipe growing up, but wasn't so sure about it when I saw the list of ingredients. This blend is definitely worth a try, though!

8 ounces cream cheese
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 small can deviled ham
1 small can finely diced black olives
Chopped pecans

Allow cream cheese to soften at room temperature for 30 minutes, then beat with cheddar cheese. Mix in ham and olives, and chill cheese mixture for at least 30 minutes. You can then roll the mixture into two logs, or shape it to fit the occasion. For our fall party, I set out to make a pumpkin. I rolled the cheese mixture into a ball, pressed pecans around the outside, and scored the ball with a knife to make pumpkin ridges. Three whole pecans tucked into the top of the ball made the stem.

Favorite Fall Salad

10 ounces mixed baby greens
1 bottle raspberry-walnut vinaigrette
5 ounce package dried cherries
10 ounce package of pecans
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
2 pears, chopped

Toss greens and dressing. Gently fold in other ingredients and serve.

Chicken Vegetable Chowder

3 strips bacon, diced
1 1/2 ribs celery, diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 large carrots, diced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 box chicken stock (4 cups)
1 rotisserie chicken, de-boned and shredded
2 unpeeled medium potatoes, chopped
1 (1 lb.4 oz.) package frozen creamed corn, thawed
1 1/2 cups baby lima beans, cooked and seasoned
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook bacon over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove bacon with slotted spoon, and set aside to drain on paper towels. Add celery, onion and carrot to drippings and cook over medium-high heat until tender, stirring frequently. Stir in flour gradually. Cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Slowly add stock, stirring constantly. Add the potatoes, corn, limas, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper and bring mixture to a boil. Boil 15 to 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Then stir in cream, chicken and bacon. Add more salt and pepper if needed.

Sticky Pumpkin Treats

Two-year-old Emma liked helping me sort the Apple Jacks according to color, but she loved sampling the cereal.

4 tablespoons margarine
1 pound miniature marshmallows
12 cups Apple Jacks cereal, sorted by color

Melt margarine and marshmallows in a nonstick pan, then stir in 12 cups of orange Apple Jacks. Allow the mixture to cool in the pan, then use an ice cream scoop to pull balls of cereal treats from the pan. Shape them as necessary in your hands, then add a green Apple Jack stem.

These were some of the friendly faces that made today so much fun!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Harvest Party

Fall-themed invitations invite Mary Ashley's preschool class to join us for lunch after school today.

October gave a party;

The leaves by hundreds came–

The Chestnuts, Oaks and Maples,

And leaves of every name.

The Sunshine spread a carpet,

And everything was grand,

Miss Weather led the dancing,

Professor Wind the band.

– George Cooper

We'll be sending the children home with little bags of candy, along with laminated name tags made using a laminator and laminating sheets purchased here. Orange and green ribbons add a festive touch. These personalized tags can be tied to trick-or-treating bags this week, then used as luggage tags later.

Photo CDs from our recent field trip make easy party favors for moms.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fall Fix-Up

What a day I had yesterday! Here is everything I accomplished:

1. I cleaned the whole house top to bottom.

2. I landscaped the front yard and put out a new doormat.

3. I made new wreaths for the front door and hung them.

4. I made and installed new window treatments on every window.

5. Finally, I cleaned off the roof.

I would say that was quite a day's work! Take a look at my home makeover below.

OK, so technically, it was not my house, but the children's playhouse. Beaded candle rings fit together and tied with ribbon make a perfect double wreath for the front door, and quilted placemats make easy window valances and doormat. Potted mums and pumpkins add the final touches of fall. And we're ready to welcome guests!

We're on the lookout for friends of the preschool sort this week.

Everyone has pulled together and worked tirelessly to pull things together.

Well, almost everyone, except for maybe one 2-year-old who shall remain nameless.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Kicking Back for the Weekend

Soccer-themed ribbon, a grassy paper fringe and a soccer ball sticker adhered with a pop dot add a kick to these invitations.

Come to Wetumpka to Get Your Kicks

Score Some Goals and Have Some Fun

Then Come to Our House for Post-Soccer Play

Just Head on Over When Your Game Is Done!

When I invited families from church who play AYSO soccer to join us after their games Saturday, I envisioned our weekend looking something like this:

But instead, Saturday looked more like this:

The past week has definitely reminded me that life doesn't always go according to my plans.

With sick children, rainy weather and unexpected delays at every turn, we just couldn't pull things together for a party this weekend. Although I was disappointed to miss out on time with friends, letting go of my plans actually provided great relief. Stress was building throughout the week as unforeseen problems pushed housework, grocery shopping and cooking further and further into the week. I felt a sense of panic as the chores piled up, wondering how I could possibly get everything done in time.

Deciding to cancel the brunch was difficult, but in the end surrendering my expectations lifted a weight from my shoulders. Proverbs 16:9 says, "In your heart you plan your life, but the Lord decides where your steps will take you."

I am reminded that sometimes letting go of the best-laid plans opens my schedule to unexpected blessings. So this weekend instead of brushing off a sick child to accomplish chores, I savored the opportunity to hold my baby. Instead of rushing around trying to rid my house of cluttered toys and dirty hand prints, I paused to appreciate the little ones who fill my home with life. And instead of spending the morning on my feet entertaining a crowd, I enjoyed one-on-one time with each child and even took a bubble bath.

So, yes, this weekend was definitely not what I had planned. I had hoped to kick it up a notch Saturday celebrating with friends, but instead spent a quiet morning kicking back with my family. And in the end I found that in surrendering my own expectations, I got exactly what I needed.

Collage images from Google

Friday, October 24, 2008

Fuel to the Fire

Thank you to Becky, Stacey and Laural for sharing these awards with me! I feel like I am in great company with these three creative women. I hope you three know that you are only encouraging me to spend more time crafting! I am supposed to list six things I love and pass this award on to six more blogs. Since we're getting creative here, these are six of my decorating favorites:

1. Pink

2. China -- Early in our marriage, Joe resigned himself to the fact that we would never have enough.

3. Fresh flowers

4. Fabric -- I love browsing fabric stores and can't resist a lush floral or pretty toile

5. Needlepoint pillows

6. Monogrammed ... anything!

I pass this award on to Stephanie, Karin, Carly, Melanie, Felicia and Robyn. Thanks for the inspiration, ladies!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Amaizing Fall Fun

Mary Ashley's preschool class spent a delightful morning at Hickory Hill Farms in Titus, Ala. With hay ride, corn maze, petting zoo and play areas to keep us busy, adults and children alike enjoyed our morning on the farm.

Jumping on the hay bales was great fun!

A country boy at heart.

"Let's hurry back, Mommy!"

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Love in a Bottle

This is the conversation Joe and I had with 6-year-old Christian last week when we sat down for a family supper at a favorite sandwich shop.

Christian: Mom, do you want to play Spin the Bottle?

Mom: (caught off guard) Spin the Bottle? Well ... how do you play that game?

Christian: You spin the bottle, and whoever it lands on, you kiss.

Mom: Oh, my! Where did you learn about that game?

Christian: "The Suite Life of Zach and Cody."

Mom: (under her breath) Ugh! Thanks, Disney Channel.

Dad: We've actually played it here before.

Christian: (disappointed) Yeah, I always landed on Dad.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cover Girl Chili

I won't let Joe forget that when the Sept./Oct. issue of Christian Woman arrived with my photo on the cover, he barely glanced at it and said, "Oh, that's nice." And that was it. But a few days later when he came home from work and smelled chili on the stove, he was so excited he picked me up and whirled me around the room. I considered spooning some chili on the magazine to elicit a bigger reaction from Joe, but instead I think I'll just share the recipe with you.

Favorite Chili

From Daisy King's Miss Daisy Celebrates Tennessee cookbook. Apparently, this recipe will bring you more fame and adoration than being a cover girl.

2 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
2 16-ounce cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green pepper
3 black peppercorns
4 tablespoons chili powder
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoons paprika
2 cups water
1 16-ounce can kidney beans
1 16-ounce can pinto beans
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon Tabasco Sauce

Assemble all ingredients and utensils. In a very large skillet or saucepan, brown ground beef and drain very well. Add next eight ingredients and simmer covered for 2 hours. Add beans and seasonings and simmer uncovered for another 50 to 60 minutes. Yield: 8 to 10 servings.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Mommy Cakes

I had the privilege of guest posting at Blog Around the World Friday and wanted to share that post here with those of you who might have missed it. I shared the name of a lady I met at a retreat, and later realized I remembered her name incorrectly. So I have corrected that in this post.

It's official. With the lighting of my husband's candles last Friday, the birthday season is officially in full swing for our family of six. From October to April, the confetti, streamers and frosting fly as I plan celebrations for Joe and our four children. With invitations to make, cakes to decorate, favors to craft and games to plan, it's a sometimes dizzying pace. Add in birthday parties for three nephews and a niece during that six-month period, and it seems we are lighting candles for someone nearly every week.

And I love it. I took cake-decorating classes as a newlywed because I remembered fondly my own birthdays growing up. My mother made our cakes, and my sister, brother and I enjoyed choosing our theme each year. I look back on our simple celebrations as some of the happiest days of my life. I knew then that I would want to share that magic with my children.

As mothers, so many of us are the memory makers in the family. I joke often that Joe provides our livelihood, and I provide our "lovelihood." What a privilege it is to bring our families together year after year. Pieced together like a quilt, we hope those tender moments will wrap our loved ones in warm memories even after we're gone.

As I frosted my husband's cake last week, I thought about all the women who create special moments for their families, and my mind drifted to a woman named Tonya. Tonya told me about the friendship that developed with a neighbor whose backyard adjoined hers. The two mothers had gotten to know each other as they met each day for an afternoon walk. Along the way they shared stories about their children, news of the day, and even hurts they had experienced. And step by step, their friendship grew.

Tonya was the birthday party planner in the family, and she joked with her neighbor when her own birthday passed that year with little fanfare. As they walked, she laughed telling her friend how concerned her daughter was that after all the work she had put into her family's celebrations, she didn't even have a birthday cake.

Tonya's eyes filled with tears as she revealed what happened next. "Look Mommy!" her daughter cried a few hours later when she looked out the window. Tonya peered out the window and giggled at the site. There was her neighbor bounding down the hill between their houses -- a huge, fluffy pink birthday cake in her hands.

Isn't that a beautiful image?

As women, so often we are the heart of our families. We provide instruction, kiss boo-boos, mend broken hearts and even plan birthday parties. But who takes care of the care taker?

I believe the natural choice is other women. We can understand each other in a way our husbands and children can't. So we share recipes, money-saving ideas and medical advice. We deliver meals to new mothers and look out for co-workers who are sick. Our own hearts hurt when a friend is grieving, and we take her worries to heart before taking them to the Lord. And we deliver fluffy pink birthday cakes to each other every day.

Those cakes are often presented in the form of sweet words of encouragement, delivered with the gifts of a listening ear and an understanding heart. Times shared wrap the package in happy memories, laughter adds a fluffy bow, and acts of thoughtfulness lovingly sign the card, "Your friend."

A favorite quote about friendship reminds me,

“I think of my women friends as a raft we make with our arms. We are out there in the middle of some great scary body of water, forearm to forearm, hand to elbow, holding tight. Sometimes I am part of the raft, joining up with others to provide safe harbor; other times I need to climb aboard myself, until the storms subside and I can see my way clear to swim to shore. The raft drifts apart when it’s not needed, but never disbands, never forgets.”
So, friends from around the world, climb aboard. I'm so glad you are here. There is room here for everyone, and plenty of cake to go around.

“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).

Friday, October 17, 2008

Piece of Cake

I'm guest blogging today at Blog Around the World. Please join me for a piece of cake!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

To-Go Box for Fall

Today's Menu:

Creamy Tomato Soup with Sourdough Croutons (recipe here)

Pumpkin Muffins (recipe here)

Cheese and Crackers


Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries (recipe here)

Today's Special:

Carson's fourth-grade teachers!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Little Ballerinas

Four-year-old Mary Ashley was tickled pink to have her little sister watch her in ballet class this week.

Two-year-old Emma insisted on wearing a tutu to Mary Ashley's class. She wanted so much to participate!

And as it turns out, Emma did get her first ballet lesson after all.

I love my prima ballerinas!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wedding Shower Cake

I made this wedding cake for an upcoming bridal shower. It was easy to assemble, and I think it's a lovely way to present a gift of towels. I rolled two bath towels for the bottom tier, two hand towels for the middle tier, and a single wash cloth for the top tier. Blue satin ribbons keep the towels tightly wound and decorate each layer. A wooden dowel rod pushed through the center of the tiers keeps the cake stable, and silk roses tucked into the top layer add the finishing touch. The completed wedding cake sits atop a cake plate made by gluing a clear glass platter and bowl together with E-6000.

This wedding cake must look pretty good; 4-year-old Mary Ashley has asked me several times when we are going to eat it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Joe's Birthday Dinner

Joe's late grandmother's Wedgewood china pattern, Sparrow, inspired a lovely fall table. Fresh flowers in autumn hues, leaf candles nestled in candy corn, and a little bird nestled atop Joe's birthday cake celebrated the warmth of the season.

The Menu:

Chicken Cordon Bleu

Spinach Salad with Mandarin Oranges, Dried Cherries and Croutons with Raspberry Vinaigrette

Green Beans


Birthday Cake with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream


Chicken Cordon Bleu

My mother's recipe, this is a wonderful special occasion dish.

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
6 slices thin ham
6 slices Swiss cheese
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons butter
3 ounces fresh mushrooms
1/2 cup water
1 chicken bouillon cube
2 tablespoons flour

Beat chicken breasts until 1/4-inch thick. Place ham and cheese slices on chicken. Roll in jelly roll fashion; secure with toothpicks. Roll in flour, and brown in butter. Remove from frying pan and place in baking dish. To butter add mushrooms and saute. Add bouillon cube and 1/2 cup water, and stir. Pour over chicken and cook 1 to 1 1/4 hours at 350, or until tender. Remove chicken to serving platter. Pour drippings from baking dish into frying pan. Add 2 tablespoons flour, and cook until thick. Pour over chicken. Garnish with almonds.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Happy Birthday, Joe!

The cake is ready ...

The table is set ...

For a birthday dinner you'll never forget!

Happy Birthday, Joe! I love you!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Here Comes the Birthday

With Joe's birthday coming up tomorrow, I am busy baking his cake and making preparations for his birthday dinner tomorrow night. And I'm reminded of his birthday celebration two years ago.

Joe likes for his birthday to pass quietly without much fuss, so our family of six planned to eat at home that night. The celebration would definitely be low-key, but still I wanted Joe to feel special. So I had spent the day making his favorite dishes: chicken and puff pastry, green beans, rolls and a fresh green salad. And for dessert, a freshly-baked cake with creamy buttercream icing.

When we gathered around the table for dinner, the children worried that our family meal was not special enough to mark the occasion. Where were all the guests? Where were the balloons? Had I made invitations or a birthday crown? And most frustrating to them, what was the theme of this party?

Four-year-old Christian was most concerned about his daddy's small-scale celebration. He was deep in thought as we finished our meal. I lit the candles on Joe's birthday cake, we sang "Happy Birthday," and I served everyone a piece of cake. I took a bite of cake and commented that the all-white cake tasted like wedding cake.

Finally inspiration struck, and Christian's face lit up. He announced with delight, "Dad, Dad, I know what your birthday party can be! You can have a wedding party. You can invite your girlfriend!"

(Christian meant me, so it was a happy birthday, after all!)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Little Ladies Who Lunch

The girls and I delivered lunch to my brother and sister-in-law yesterday. I wanted to incorporate some of my favorite fall flavors into the meal, so I put together a new chicken salad recipe for the occasion. Fresh-baked pumpkin muffins filled the house with warmth, and we rounded out our menu with cheese and crackers, apples, carrots and yogurt. Although we ended our meal with chocolate cupcakes, the sweetest treat was meeting the newest addition to the family.

Pumpkin Muffins

3 cups sugar
4 beaten eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
15 oz. can pumpkin
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
2/3 cup water

Mix together all ingredients and spoon into greased muffin pans. Bake in a 350 degree oven 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in comes out clean. Or bake in loaf pans for about an hour. Yield: 24 muffins or 2 loaves.

Autumn Chicken Salad

Shredded traditional rotisserie chicken
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 rounded tablespoon sour cream
2 teaspoons pickle juice
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup dried cherries
1 pear, sliced and soaked in lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped pecans

Combine chicken and other ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate overnight. Add more dried cherries, pecans or pears if needed for balance. Before serving, add a little more mayonnaise if the mixture seems too dry. Garnish with pecans, and serve with crackers or croissants.

And introducing our guest of honor ...

Kadence Marie Prichard

Daddy, Nathan, took this picture in the hospital.

I snapped this picture while the girls snuggled up with Kadence to watch a favorite DVD. Mary Ashley said she wanted to take Meet the Letters so Kadence could start learning the alphabet. She snuggled peacefully in Mary Ashley's arms, the ABC song lulling her to sleep. The perfect end to her first ladies lunch!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

New Mommy Cupcakes

A woman who has just become a mother deserves to be pampered a little, don't you think?

The girls and I are heading to my brother, Nathan's, house today to take lunch to his wife, Shana. We are so excited to meet their 1-week-old daughter, Kadence Marie. I can't wait to hold her, and 4-year-old Mary Ashley has already said she wants to watch The Little Mermaid with her. We are looking forward to a great girls day out!

I hope Shana will enjoy sampling these chocolate cupcakes frosted with chocolate buttercream icing and topped with chocolate-dipped strawberries. For the strawberries, I removed the hulls and dipped them in melted chocolate. While the berries cooled on waxed paper, I melted white chocolate and drizzled it over the strawberries from the end of a spoon. When the chocolate hardened, I placed the berries on top of the cupcakes. I like to place the strawberries hull-side down so the juice from the strawberries seeps down into the cake. So moist and delicious, they're worth every contraction!

Chocolate Buttercream Icing

1 cup shortening
2 sticks margarine
6 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons clear imitation vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups cocoa powder
2 lb. 10X confectioners sugar

With an electric mixer, cream shortening, margarine, milk and vanilla. Gradually beat in sugar and cocoa powder until smooth. Add more milk, a little at a time, if the icing is still too thick.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Candy Corngratulations

"Be joyful with those who are joyful" (Romans 12:15 NIRV).

A sweet high school senior from our church was just named Miss Wetumpka High School. I had just written her a note of congratulations when I learned that her mother was also named teacher of the year at our elementary school. When Joe told me the good news, I said, "Oh, my! Laine is Miss Wetumpka High School, and Miss Joetta is Miss Wetumpka Elementary!"

I'm so proud of these two Christian ladies and the way their lights shine in our little community. Somehow, another note just doesn't seem appropriate to celebrate their accomplishments. So I hope this pretty fall arrangement will say congratulations.

For this whimsical design, I used two cylindrical vases. I filled the bottom of the larger vase with a thin layer of candy corn, then placed a smaller bud vase filled about two-thirds of the way with water inside the larger vase. Holding the smaller vase steady and covering the top, I sprinkled candy corn around the vase to fill the space between the two vases. Then I filled the smaller bud vase with fresh-cut flowers and greenery. A pretty bow on a floral pick tucked into the candy corn adds the final touch.

I made similar arrangements using bubble gum at daughter Emma's sweet-shoppe themed "Tea for 2" earlier this year. You can see a sample of this sweet design in her candy land here.

I hope the candy corn arrangement above will add a refreshing touch of autumn to the Kellys home. And even more, I hope it reminds them how loved they are. And how proud I am that their lights shine so brightly in our schools.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Little Girl, Big Girl

Emma and I shared a moment the other day. We had just dropped Mary Ashley off at ballet, and when we returned home, the boys bounded out of the van. They had been involved in a heated competition before we left, and they were eager to get back to their video game.

Two-year-old Emma stayed behind, unable to free herself from her car seat. As I helped her unbuckle, her big blue eyes looked so sad. "Da boys say I can't play," she began slowly. I could feel her disappointment, and I asked her if she was talking about her brothers' game.

She nodded slowly, then continued sadly, "Nobody wants to play with me."

I gave Emma a big hug and asked her if she would like to play with me. A smile touched the corners of her lips, and she seemed content to spend some special time with Mommy.

With this incident still fresh on my mind, we picked up Mary Ashley from ballet and headed straight to Christian's soccer practice. There 4-year-old Mary Ashley, still in her tutu, garnered lots of attention from the other children. "Ooh, look at the ballerina!" one little girl whispered admiringly to her mom. Another little girl, about 5, approached Mary Ashley and asked her to play. The two girls stood chatting between the soccer fields, deciding what to play.

Stationed beside my chair, Emma noticed the big girls talking and was eager to join them. So she toddled over and introduced herself. "I Emma. I 2," she offered. Then she pointed toward Mary Ashley and me. "Dis Meh-Ashley. Dis my mommy."

I watched out of the corner of my eye as the girls smiled at her, and I could tell Emma felt so happy to be included. She wanted so much to be one of the big girls! She shifted on her feet, cocking one hip to the side, trying her best to look cool and casual. She put her hands on her hips, and in her best big-girl voice bragged nonchalantly, "Yeah, I go tee-tee in the potty. My daddy say I do a good job."

I swallowed a giggle, realizing Emma had no idea that rather than making herself sound older, sharing this achievement with the over-2 crowd would actually remind them she was younger. But shortly after, the girls took off for a game of chase with Emma in tow. She laughed and played throughout soccer practice, a little girl so happy to be one of the big girls.

As a mother, my heart has ached for all of my children at one time or another when they have felt left out. Whether as a result of sibling squabbles, playground politics or new-school situations, all four have experienced pangs of isolation and insecurity.

Perhaps as mothers, we take our children's struggles to heart because our own battle scars from growing up are still so tender. We remember well the sting of harsh words, the sharp pain of rejection, the deep ache of loneliness. And we remember how much we yearned for a friend.

And so we pray often for friendships that will bless our children's lives. For friends who will keep them on the right path. Friends who are compassionate, loyal and trustworthy. In short, the kind of friends we all need. The kind of friend we have in Jesus.

Isaiah 53:2-6 tells us about the best friend the world would ever despise: "He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed" (NIV).

So I pray that as my little girls become big girls, and my little boys become big boys, they will come to know the blessings of true friendship. As their mother, my heart goes with them, swelling when they laugh and play in harmony, and aching when they experience conflict. And yet I know that each encounter good and bad better schools them in becoming a true friend.

And most of all, I pray their longing for friendship leads them to Jesus. Loving and long-suffering; patient and peaceful; faithful and forgiving -- He truly is the Friend for all time.

"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command" (John 15:13-14).

An October Fairy

As we drift into October today, I am reminiscing about my sweet fairy child, Mary Ashley. I made this costume for her when she was a baby. When I tried it on her, she giggled with glee as if she had been waiting patiently up until then for her gown and fairy wings.

I was eager to dress my new daughter for trunk or treat at our church, but I challenged myself to make her costume with materials I had on hand in my craft closet. So with scraps of fabric, tulle, silk flowers, ribbons and a Saturday afternoon to myself, this magical costume emerged.

I decided to make a tutu on a length of ribbon so it could wrap around Mary Ashley's torso for a baby dress but work as a skirt later on. So first I measured Mary Ashley's chest and cut a length of ribbon long enough to wrap around her torso and tie in the back. Then I cut three long strips of tulle and pinned them to the back of the ribbon, gathering along the way. I sewed the tulle to the ribbon and cut a scalloped edge across the bottom.

Whisper-pink fabric leftover from a sewing project was perfect for making petals for the costume. So I drew a large petal on poster board and used it as a pattern to cut petals out of my fabric. I pinned two petals, right sides together, and sewed around the edges. Then I clipped the corners and turned the petal right-side-out. I made several more petals following the same directions.

Then I pinned the petals to the ribbon, working from the center of the ribbon outward. I wanted to be sure that one petal was centered on the front of the dress, and positioned the others so they would overlap slightly. I sewed the petals to the dress.

I then tried the dress on Mary Ashley and marked the spots where I needed to add ribbon ties at the shoulders. I cut four ribbons and hand stitched them into place. I also stitched thin ribbons to the front of the dress.

Silk flowers glued to the front of the dress added flair, and for an ethereal touch I glued silk petals to the top layer of tulle and silk leaves to the bottom layer. I did purchase fairy wings, but made them unique by gluing on silk flowers to match the dress.

Mary Ashley wore this fairy costume for two years, and it hangs in the nursery to this day as a reminder of the fleeting days of her infancy. Now she shuns the idea of wearing a costume Mommy made, favoring Disney princesses and store-bought costumes to anything handmade. But I will hold on to this fairy costume forever, and along with it the magical memories of this sweet fairy child who floated into my life and melted my heart.

Mary Ashley, October 2004

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