Friday, July 31, 2009

Are You Smarter Than a First-Grader?

Recently my sons came up with a new game to pass the time as we travelled. The boys competed head-to-head in Knowledge Battle, taking turns trying to stump each other with difficult questions. They determined that players could ask questions about history or challenge each other with trivia questions from books or movies familiar to both competitors. And to keep the game fair, the challenger had to know the answer to his own question. With each player starting out with five lives, the game ended when one player was eliminated.

Joe and the boys enjoyed playing Knowledge Battle while they waited in the car for the girls and me at a shopping center. When we returned to the car, I was in a happy place after finding new shoes for the girls. But my heart rate quickened when the boys insisted that I take on 7-year-old Christian in their new game.

Let me preface the rest of this story with a little personal history. I excelled in school. I made good grades and contributed to class discussions. But I never would have wanted to face-off in a battle of intellects. I never even liked playing Trivial Pursuit at home with my family, so I would have broken out in hives at the thought of joining my high school's prestigious Scholars Bowl team.

So with trepidation, I accepted Christian's challenge to play Knowledge Battle. Christian was the first to ask a question. "OK, Mom," he began gently, "where was Alexander Graham Bell raised."

Are you kidding me?

I did not even know how to guess the answer to this question. With only the slightest hope that Christian had learned about Bell in school because of a local connection, I answered weakly, "Alabama?"

"No, Mom. Scotland."

Oh, yes. That would have definitely been my next guess.

"It's your turn to ask a question, Mom," 10-year-old Carson prompted.

This was a nightmare! My mind went blank of all knowledge it had ever contained. Racing to find any bit of trivia left in my shriveled little brain, my mind settled on a movie I had recently watched with the children. Thinking of Confessions of a Shopaholic, I remembered a particularly amusing moment that I was sure would have gone over the head of my little boy who detests shopping.

"OK, OK, I've got one," I began excitedly. Then in my most serious smart voice, I asked, "In the movie Confessions of a Shopaholic, the lead female character is impressed that her boss can speak what well-known designer name brand?"

Little Christian wrinkled his nose and asked me to repeat the question. His brow furrowed in deep concentration as he sat in silence for several seconds. Then he cocked his head to the side and offered with a toothless grin: "Prada?"

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Little Girls Drawstring Purse

My grandmother has been making these precious little drawstring purses to match the pillowcase dresses she has been making for the girls this summer.

She says these pouches are a snap to put together. My grandmother suggests making a pattern out of newspaper by folding it in half, then in half again. Then cut an arc in the paper and unfold it to reveal a circle. She likes using an 18-inch circle, but you could adjust this measurement to suit your needs.

The next step is to trace and cut two circles of fabric, keeping in mind that the lining will show at the top of the purse. Using a narrow seam allowance, sew the two circles of fabric with right sides together. Then cut an opening in the center of the lining fabric and turn the fabric right side out through this opening. Place a plastic disc over this opening, and sew a circle of fabric over it.

To make a casing for the cord, sew a circle about 1 1/2 inches down from the edge of the fabric, then again 1/2-inch to 1-inch down from the last circle. Cut a small opening in the lining on each side of the purse, and thread ribbon or cord through each channel with a safety pin. Knot the ends of the cord, and draw up the fabric to reveal a sweet little purse. All that is left now is to let your little girl fill it with childhood treasures!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Simple Joys

When back problems slowed my pace this summer, one of the blessings of my down time was discovering author Beverly Lewis. Publishers Weekly calls Lewis "one of Christian fiction's most beloved authors and gentle reads." Her novels transport readers to Pennsylvania Dutch country, where unfolding drama reveals that although life among the Old Order Amish community may be plain, it is not always simple. ForeWord Magazine describes her writing as "richly patterned as [Amish] quilts, and just as enjoyable to get wrapped up in." Find the Heritage of Lancaster County series here and the Annie's People series here.
Have you snuggled up with any must-read books this summer?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Faithfully Yours: A Life in Letters

"To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart." -- Phyllis Theroux

My grandmother recently surprised the family by returning all the letters we have written to her over the years. I was astonished to learn that for more than 40 years, Grandma saved every piece of personal correspondence in its original stamped envelope!

My mother was the most faithful pen pal, usually writing her at least once a week. Now returned to her, these letters chronicle our family's life from her courtship with my dad, through their early days of marriage, to the years of child raising and beyond. What an unexpected gift it has been to glimpse snapshots of years past through her own handwriting, reliving many long-forgotten events of days gone by through personal observations and newsy tidbits.

Although fewer in number, my own letters take me back to my youth. From my first preschool drawings of rainbows to the notes I penned when the children were babies, I have enjoyed the nostalgic journey rereading this correspondence has brought. Why, even seeing old stationery and address labels opens a floodgate of memories! I remember sitting at the kitchen table as a kindergartner laboriously printing thank you notes on the now-yellowed lined paper with cartoon animals in the corner. I giggle and roll my eyes at my fat, loopy adolescent handwriting -- I's dotted with hearts, of course -- penned on notebook paper folded like origami. Then in my more familiar grown-up handwriting, I reread floral postcards jotted hastily from my college dorm room; embossed ivory monogrammed note cards penned in my apartment as a newlywed; and teacup-themed stationery written in a quiet spot in our house while little ones slept nearby. Bundled together, all these letters tell the story of my journey to womanhood. I'm so grateful that my grandmother felt that was a story worth preserving.

Receiving this treasury of letters has reminded me how precious personal correspondence is. "We lay aside letters never to read them again, and at last we destroy them out of discretion," Johann Wolfgang von Goethe lamented, "and so disappears the most beautiful, the most immediate breath of life, irrecoverable for ourselves and for others." I am now determined to keep my children's letters so that years from now, they can read through their life in letters, knowing that each word, memory and sentiment shared was savored and cherished by a mother who was, in closing, sincerely theirs.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Christmas in July Party

Friends Julie and Rebecca hosted a festive Christmas in July party over the weekend. Guests were invited to bring a favorite holiday appetizer or dessert, and our favorite selections in each category won a prize. I took chocolate-orange fudge and peppermint almond bark. They didn't win a prize, but I will share the recipes anyway!

Julie kept us in the Christmas spirit with holiday games. The party started with a mixer where guests compared notes to fill out categories, such as "I have already completed my Christmas shopping" and "I have seen a real reindeer." Later we guessed the contents of wrapped Christmas presents, and the person with the most correct guesses unwrapped a present of her own.

This fun party capped off a week that for me included painting ornaments for my Nov./Dec. Christian Woman article, which is due this week. So these made great favors for our wonderful hosts!

Chocolate-Orange Fudge

An easy recipe with a hint of citrus.

2 1/2 cups (15 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (14-ounce) can fat-free Eagle Brand
Zest from one orange

Line an 8-inch square pan with foil, and spray the bottom and sides with Pam. Melt chocolate chips with Eagle Brand in a saucepan, then stir in orange zest and remove from heat. Pour the mixture into the foil-lined pan, and chill for 2 hours or until firm. Pull the foil from the pan and slice the fudge into diamond shapes by cutting straight lines across the block of fudge one way, then cutting diagonal lines across the other way. Garnish with orange zest, if desired. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator.

Peppermint Almond Bark

8 ounces vanilla candy coating
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
6 or 7 peppermints, crushed

Melt candy according to package directions, then stir in extract and crushed peppermints. Spread onto wax paper to cool. Then break into pieces. Store in an airtight container.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Summer Pizza Delivery

My girls loved helping me put together this fruit pizza recipe this week. This was my favorite dessert to make when Joe and I entertained as newlyweds.

Special Fruit Pizza

If you're looking for a refreshing summertime dessert, this fruit pizza delivers.

18-ounce package refrigerated sugar cookie dough
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 tablespoons water
Fresh fruit
1/4 cup orange marmalade, warmed

Bake cookie on 14-inch pizza pan at 375 degrees for 12 minutes. Combine cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and water and mix until creamy. Spread onto cooled cookie dough. Arrange fruit and brush with marmalade. Chill.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Attention, Shoppers

"May I have your attention, please?"

Today I will be in Montgomery for a Castles and Crowns trunk show featuring smocked and appliqued clothing for boys and girls. You can view the fall collection online here. Please join me if you can from 3-6 p.m. in the President's Dining Room on the campus of Faulkner University.

"Mommy calls it a trunk show, but Daddy calls it a play date for mommies."

If you can't make the show but would like to order, leave me a comment below.

"That concludes this important message."

Tomorrow, a summer pizza delivery you're sure to love!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Little Boy Blue

I thought my aspiring little chef, 7-year-old Christian, would be excited to read his positive review on my blog, so I called him over to see my recent posts about some of his favorite recipes. He smiled to see himself on screen and began reading the text aloud. We shared a sweet mother-son moment until Christian reached the final caption detailing his new blue apron: "Christian is always eager to join me in the kitchen, so I thought he was long overdue for an apron. Now a canvas apron in his favorite color bears a logo for the ice cream shop of his dreams." He shot me a disappointed look and said curtly, "Mom, my favorite color is not 'bears-a-logo.' "

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Real Simple Summer Meal

Doesn't last night's supper look like perfect summer fare?

Shrimp Tacos with Citrus Cabbage Slaw

I found this recipe in the August 2009 issue of Real Simple and love its combination of sweet, spicy and creamy flavors. Although my children gave it mixed reviews, I'm sure my girlfriends would love it!

1/4 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons sour cream
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/4 small cabbage (8 ounces), shredded
1 cup corn kernels (from 1 to 2 ears, or frozen and thawed)
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp
8 small flour tortillas, warmed

In a large bowl, whisk the orange and lime juices, sour cream, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add the cabbage, corn and jalapeno and toss to combine. Let sit, tossing occasionally, for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the shrimp with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook until opaque throughout, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve the shrimp with the tortillas and the slaw.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mad for Mod

My sister-in-law Shana asked me to make a pillowcase dress for 1-year-old Michaela using this mod polka dotted fabric she picked up from Hobby Lobby. I love seeing how different a pattern can turn out with varied fabric choices. I followed this pattern for Michaela's dress, easily adjusting the length and gathering the neck fabric to a toddler size. I hope Michaela will get years of use from this garment -- first as a dress and down the road as a swing top -- for spot-on summer style!

Friday, July 17, 2009

To Thoughtful You ...

From Grateful Me

Dear friends, thank you so much for your recent words of encouragement and prayers on my behalf. My epidural went well Monday, and as of today I am walking tall and feeling great relief. Some of you have revealed your own struggles with chronic pain, and I appreciate your sharing those experiences with me. It is such a blessing to share life's journey with faithful friends, and I pray God's richest blessings on all of you.

"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).

Peonies from Google Images

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Birthday Bucket

This birthday gift promises buckets of fun!

A raspberry pink bucket picked up at Hobby Lobby looks even cuter personalized with vinyl lettering. (I will share directions for working with vinyl in a future post.) Fun surprises fill the bucket, and the gift presentation is complete with a fringe of ribbon and fabric strips tied to the handle.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Lizzy's Pony Party

We were delighted to attend our friend Lizzy's birthday party over the weekend. The scent of barbecue lured us to the backyard, where a sprawling tent offered shade. Underneath, tables decorated with hay bales, bandanas, flowers in mason jars and even a real saddle gave the party the relaxed feel of a country fair. My friend Stacey did a wonderful job pulling everything together!

Lizzy loves horses, so her parents surprised her at the party with live ponies to ride. When I shared this news with the girls, Mary Ashley's eyes grew wide with excitement. "Ooh, I want to ride a unicorn!" she exclaimed. "It will have a horn with rainbow colors, and all the colors will shoot out of the top into the sky and cover the world with love."

Although Mary Ashley didn't get to ride a unicorn, she did look regal sitting so straight in the saddle. Emma and Christian also took turns riding. Emma was so expressive as she rode!

Sweet cowgirlfriends Lizzy and Emma all are smiles after a pleasant ride. Happy birthday, Sweetheart!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Boot-Scootin' Birthday Cake

Give your birthday the boot with a sheet cake trimmed into the shape of a cowboy boot. I made this cake for my favorite little cowgirl. Look for more images to come from Lizzy's pony party.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Sweetest Gifts

"If I had to sum up Friendship in one word, it would be Comfort." -- Adabella Radici

This summer has been a sometimes frustrating roller coaster of ups and downs, vacillating between the highs of family fun and the lows of chronic back pain. In the most deeply personal post I have ever written, I shared my struggles with lower back pain. You can read about "My Love Squad" here.

I am constantly amazed at God's goodness in blessing us during difficult times. One such blessing came to me last week. Knowing that my back has been giving me trouble lately, my friend Stacey made the pillow pictured above and filled it with uncooked rice. Warmed in the microwave, the reusable rice pillow provides soothing moist heat. It can be positioned easily for optimum comfort. And I assume the pink floral fabric must have healing properties for a tea party girl like myself!

I have an epidural scheduled for today and ask for the sweetest gifts you can offer: your prayers. I am hopeful that today's procedure will be successful so I can be the active wife, mother and friend I want to be.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Emmagination at Work

Life with Emma is full of surprises!

At 3, daughter Emma keeps me laughing all the time. Here are a few of her latest antics.

A friend told us that a spoonful of peanut butter gets rid of hiccups, and it works! I guess Emma needed a PB fix. She came into the room with the "hiccups," jerking her shoulders dramatically as she called "hic-achoo, hic-achoo, hic-achoo!"

Rubbing her belly after supper recently, Emma exclaimed, "Oh, Mommy, I am so full my tummy is getting so big -- just like yours!"

It is precious to hear Emma quote her memory verse, Hebrews 13:16: "Do not forget to do good and to share." But I guess she has taken our reprimands to heart this summer when she goes outside, because she sometimes recites, "Do not forget to do good and shut the door."

Emma has entertained us all this summer with tall tales about her imaginary friend, Layla. She can answer all my questions about her without any hesitation.

Me: What color hair does Layla have?

Emma: It's kindly yellow, so it's kindly pink, so it's kindly blue, so it's kindly green.

Me: Where does Layla live?

Emma: With the dolphins.

Me: Wow! She lives with the dolphins?

Emma: Yes. In a birdhouse.

And how bad a day must little Emma have been having recently? When I asked about her imaginary friend, Emma's expression fell: "She doesn't like me anymore."

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Cooking with Christian

Christian chose recipes this week for a delicious, kid-friendly menu of sloppy dogs and rocky road ice cream. Perhaps you know a future chef who would love to join you in the kitchen to try these easy recipes.

Sloppy Dogs

This recipe is from Disney's The Magic Kitchen Cookbook, which Christian received as a Christmas gift. He loves it so much, he usually keeps it by his bedside.

12 ounces lean ground beef
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon dried minced onion
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
1/4 teaspoon dried basil, crushed
8 whole grain hamburger or hot dog buns
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (4 ounces)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Brown ground beef in a large skillet, then drain well. Add tomatoes and herbs to the ground beef, and bring to a boil. Cover skillet, and simmer for 15 minutes. Spoon meat mixture onto buns and top with cheese. Note: We used a fiesta blend instead of the white cheeses suggested.

Rocky Road Ice Cream

Christian chose this recipe from the pamphlet that accompanied our new 4-quart Rival ice cream maker, and it was a hit with everyone.

2 cups milk
6 squares (1 ounce each) chocolate
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups half and half
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 cups whipping cream
2 cups mini marshmallows
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans

Combine milk and semisweet chocolate in saucepan. Stirring constantly, cook over medium heat until chocolate is melted. Remove from heat. Add sugar and salt. Stir until dissolved. Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes. Freeze as directed. Note: We substituted semisweet chocolate chips for the baking squares and omitted the nuts.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

My Little Chef

Seven-year-old Christian aspires to be a chef and talks often about owning his own ice cream shop when he grows up. He promises that his dad and I will get free ice cream when we visit Christian's Scoops. Always quick to tease, Joe asked him, "Will we still get a free scoop even if you aren't there?" Christian assured him that we would, but Joe pressed, "Well, how do you know we'll still get ice cream? Will your employees know us, or will we need to tell them who we are?"

Exasperated, Christian responded with an eye roll: "Of course, they will. It will be Mary and Emma!"

Christian is always eager to join me in the kitchen, so I thought he was long overdue for an apron. Now a canvas apron in his favorite color bears a logo for the ice cream shop of his dreams.

Tomorrow, I'll share two of Christian's favorite recipes that demonstrate that it's good to be sloppy on the rocky road to becoming a chef!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Park Amusement

Joe recently spent an exciting day with Carson, Christian and a school friend at Six Flags over Georgia. They arrived as soon as the park opened, and Joe hurried the boys to the far side of the park to take advantage of rides before the crowds migrated through the park. The first attraction they reached was the Ninja. This daunting roller coaster is custom-built over water with five inversions. According to Wikipedia, "Ninja is known as one of the most rough and intense coasters in the nation." This attraction was probably not the best one to ease the boys into a day of rides -- especially Carson's friend who had never ridden a roller coaster -- but lured by its immediate availability, they headed to the front of the line.

Clearly shaken after the Ninja, 10-year-old Carson and his friend were not eager to board many of the park's other coasters. But 7-year-old Christian was fearless and jumped at the chance to ride everything his height would allow. In fact, after a particularly intense coaster, Christian surprised Joe by asking to ride it again immediately. "Really?" Joe asked in amazement.

"Yes," Christian insisted with a toothless grin. "When you ride that one two times in a row, you feel really good about yourself."

Festivities on the Fourth

We enjoyed spending Independence Day with my family at my Aunt Gail and Uncle Bill's lakeside home. We spent a wonderful day with Gail and Bill, my parents, and my brother, Nathan, and his family.

A rare family photo.

A few favorite snapshots of the children. Nathan and Shana's baby, Kadence, is a doll! I joked that we would have to set a timer to avoid fighting over who got to hold her.

My parents share a moment with the grandchildren. We only needed my sister, Jennifer, and her family to make our celebration complete.

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