Monday, February 28, 2011

Book Club: Special Delivery

Last week my book club met to discuss The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright. I will share more details about our decor and recipes this week, but today wanted to share this sweet arrangement put together by one of the table hostesses, Nancy Itson. Isn't this a precious idea for a place card holder?

To get this look, cut floral foam to fit snugly into a teacup and soak the foam according to package directions. Cut assorted floral stems short and insert them into the saturated foam. Fill in with greenery as needed to camouflage the floral foam.

Hot glue a mini-clothespin to the back of a spoon, and insert the spoon into the foam. Slip a place card into the clothespin to complete the look. As a nod to our book selection, The Wednesday Letters, Nancy used postage-themed stamps to mimic the look of letters on tiny scrapbook paper envelopes.

I was so smitten with these clever teacup arrangements, Nancy let me take home a couple. She credits Teatime Magazine with the idea. I somehow missed the idea in the magazine, but I will certainly plan to use it on the tea table soon!

Our Sunday morning began with water streaming down two stories from the attic -- soaking walls, carpet and hard wood --- and ended with Mary Ashley throwing up in her bed --  soiling her hair, clothes and bed linens. I could use a vacation right about now.

If like me you are longing to escape to a bed and breakfast, join me this week for country-inn inspired decor, recipes and more.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Buffet Style: Before and After

At last year's ballerina birthday party, Emma blew out her candles in front of the brown buffet pictured above.

When Joe's parents updated their living room, they offered us their old stereo cabinet. I was thrilled to accept it because I had been wanting a piece like this to store kids art supplies. Spanning nearly 6 feet, the stereo cabinet also offers plenty of display space on top.

Fabric panels on the outer cabinet doors disguised speakers when the piece was used as a stereo cabinet, but changing those out for glass offered display space on the ends of the unit. Before Joe's parents brought us the cabinet, they had ridges added to the inside of the door. This allowed us to simply slide rectangles of glass into the ridges. One of the sheets of glass broke during the refinishing process, but it cost less than $3 to replace it. Big impact for little money -- love that!
I was a bit intimidated to refinish the stereo cabinet and had been putting the project off for more than a year, but wanting to use it as a buffet for Emma's upcoming birthday party pushed me to go for it. Here are the results:

Isn't she pretty?

I am loving the soft white finish, which makes our new buffet look so much more at home in our kitchen. Wheels on the bottom of the piece have allowed me to move it from one room or another, and it seems I  have need of it in every room of the house. I have positioned it in our dining room for Emma's party this weekend, but Joe says he fully expects to come home one day to find I have moved our bed out because I just had to see how the buffet looked in our bedroom.

The top of the buffet has already proven a great surface for photographing new recipes and crafts.

Have you ever noticed on makeover shows that in "before" shots the woman usually looks so sad -- tired and slouchy in her frumpy clothes? But then in the "after" photos, she radiates confidence in her new look. Well, I thought our new buffet should get dressed up for the big reveal.

Who is ready for a tea party?

I conquered my first big furniture refinishing project with the help of a few friends. For a long time I have admired Cindy's feminine style and DIY decorating courage at My Romantic Home. She has refinished furniture throughout her California home with beautiful results, and she is so generous with tips and tutorials. This post on painting furniture was my go-to guide for this project. I kept my laptop open to Cindy's instructions and referred to her tips throughout the process. I think she would be proud of my results! If Cindy ever makes it to Alabama, I think I owe her a slice of pecan pie and a glass of sweet tea served from my new buffet.

In pondering what color to repaint the stereo cabinet, Jen of Balancing Beauty and Bedlam inspired my choice in this post. My jaw dropped when Jen posted about finding the yard sale deal of the century: a beautiful antique secretary for $5. I was so amazed, I gushed about her find over dinner with Joe. "OK," Joe replied, "I give you permission to buy any priceless antiques you find for $5 or less."

Thanks, Jen.

This frugal mama sets the bar high -- or low in this case. Thankfully, though, I don't have to look beyond the furniture we already have to find plenty of hand-me-down pieces in need of a face lift.

In her post, Jen pointed readers to designer Eddie Ross' gorgeous secretary re-do. Eddie says his go-to paint color is Farrow & Ball's classic All White. This looked like the perfect color choice for me, but at $100 a gallon online, I knew Joe would be less than supportive of a purchase. I happened by a local paint store going out of business, though, and they mixed up a gallon of high-quality paint using the designer formula for only $14.

I think Jen and Eddie would be proud, too! Two more slices of pecan pie coming right up as I blush over their compliments. "More sweet tea, anyone?"

I look forward to tackling more furniture re-do projects this spring, but for now I have several projects to complete for Emma's party this weekend. In the midst of this busy week, I hosted our quarterly book club meeting last night, so I will be back next week with fun recipes, crafts and a giveaway.

(I'm linking this post to Show and Tell Friday at My Romantic Home.)

"Trust that little voice in your head that says 'Wouldn't it be interesting if ...'  And then do it." -- Duane Michals

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Our Bubbly Birthday Girl

I cannot believe my sweet baby Emma is 5!

I was in a bit of denial about this birthday, but Emma insists she will still be my little girl no matter how old she gets.

So far she is as sweet and cuddly as ever, so I guess I will let her keep growing.

Emma's actual birthday was a couple of weeks ago, but we will celebrate her party with friends this weekend.

Isn't it comforting that the more things change, the more they stay the same?

My sweet girl still loves her sweets, so we have a sweet celebration in store for Emma. I am eager to share all the fun with you here next week. In the meantime, stop by tomorrow to see a furniture makeover -- finished in time for the party.

"A daughter may outgrow your lap, but she will never outgrow your heart." -- Author Unknown

Top photo by Allison Hilyer Photography; Collage photos by Sally Kent.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Apple Dinner

I must admit, I am a Daddy's Girl from way back. So I was delighted to host my father's birthday dinner earlier this month.

D-Dad, as the grandchildren call him, has made a point to spend time with each of his eight grandchildren these last few months since Mother's passing -- playing games, reading books, watching sporting events, and even making a Cub Scout camping trip.

I wanted Daddy to enjoy some of the dishes Mother traditionally prepared for his birthday, which inspired an apple theme for the evening.

Apple of My Eye Dinner Menu
Spinach-Artichoke Dip with Tortilla Chips

Spinach Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette
Apple Waldorf Salad
Chicken Turnovers
Pecan-Cranberry Wild Rice
Green Beans
Apple Cake with Apples and Cream


Spinach-Artichoke Dip

A delicious appetizer that comes together in minutes.
10 ounces sour cream
Half-jar artichoke hearts (drained
2 packages frozen creamed spinach
1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese
Half package onion soup mix
Microwave spinach according to package directions in a microwave-safe dish. Stir in remaining ingredients, and microwave until mixture is hot and bubbly. Top with a little shredded Parmesan cheese, and serve warm with tortilla chips.

Spinach Salad
This Rachael Ray recipe is quick, easy and tasty.

1 pound triple-washed spinach, de-stemmed
1 small Golden Delicious apple, quartered, cored and sliced
1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons (a couple of splashes) apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon grain mustard
1 tablespoon (a good drizzle) honey
Coarse salt and black pepper
Place spinach, apple and onion in a salad bowl. Place oil, vinegar, mustard and honey in a small plastic container and fit lid on container. Shake dressing to combine, 1 minute. Pour dressing over salad, toss and season with salt and pepper, to taste. (Note: I used Grey Poupon Country Dijon mustard and additional honey to sweeten the dressing.)

Apple Waldorf Salad
Mother's version of this salad was less sweet than most recipes. I don't have a copy of her recipe, but achieved a good approximation with this attempt to recreate it.

1 Red Delicious apple, chopped and dipped in lemon juice
1 Golden Delicious apple, chopped and dipped in lemon juice
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1 small box raisins
2 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise
Combine first 5 ingredients in a mixing bowl, and stir in mayonnaise. Refrigerate until serving.


Chicken Turnovers
I made this Southern Lady recipe for my parents' anniversary the year Mother was diagnosed with cancer, and she told me it was one of the few things she enjoyed eating despite treatments that took her appetite. This remained one of her favorite dishes to eat at my house.

6 ounces cream cheese, softened
5 tablespoons butter, melted, divided
4 cups chicken, boiled and shredded
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons chopped onion
2 tablespoons chopped pimento
2 cans refrigerated crescent-roll dough
3/4 cup bread crumbs
In a large bowl, stir together the cream cheese and 3 tablespoons of melted butter until smooth. Add chicken and next 5 ingredients, stirring until well blended. Unroll crescent-roll dough and divide into rectangles (4 per can), pressing together any diagonal perforations. Place 1/2 cup chicken mixture in center of each dough rectangle. Fold dough over filling and press to seal. Dip turnovers in remaining melted butter and then roll in bread crumbs. Place on a cookie sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes until golden brown. (Note: I used Italian bread crumbs and prepared half-size turnovers to keep servings smaller -- a good option with five children at the table.)

Pecan-Cranberry Wild Rice
Also a Southern Lady recipe, this dish is a great accompaniment to chicken turnovers. Simply prepare a box of wild rice according to package directions, stirring in a stick of margarine when you remove the rice from heat. Add sweetened dried cranberries and chopped pecans to taste.

Find Mother's apple chip cake recipe here. I dressed up Daddy's favorite cake with flowers and apple slices, and we enjoyed it sliced and topped with dollops of Cool Whip.

Daddy spent time hanging out with the children while I finished dinner preparations. When 11-year-old Carson popped in to ask me a question, I commented that everyone seemed to be enjoying D-Dad. He heartily agreed, adding, "D-Dad is awesome!" That's why he is the apple of our eye.

"I love my father as the stars -- he's a bright shining example and a happy twinkling in my heart." -- Terri Guillemets

Monday, February 21, 2011

Strawberry Bread

Strawberry bread was a special breakfast treat at Grandparents Day at Emma's school last week. I'm sure it tastes better shared with a grandmother or grandfather.

Strawberry Bread
From my go-to southern cookbook, Southern Born and Bread, compiled by the Junior Service League of LaGrange, Ga.
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup vegetable oil
2 10-ounce packages frozen strawberries, thawed and drained, reserving 1/2 cup juice
8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup powdered sugar
Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Add eggs and vegetable oil; mix. Stir in strawberries. Pour batter into 2 greased 8 1/2x4 1/2 x3-inch loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Combine cream cheese, reserved strawberry juice and powdered sugar to make a spreadable mixture. Slice loaves thin, and spread slices with cream cheese mixture. Makes 2 loaves. Freezes well. (Note: My cream cheese spread turned out a little too thin -- more the consistency of yogurt than spread. I would suggest adding the strawberry juice gradually to the cream cheese-sugar mixture to keep it a little thicker.)

"Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children." -- Alex Haley

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Valentine Party

The girls and I were privileged to attend a traditional Valentine party over the weekend.

Host Nancy attended to every detail, pouring her heart into the day for the houseful of little girls in attendance.

Nancy topped her pretty pink tablecloth with Valentine napkins and a tempting variety of Valentine treats.

The party menu included strawberry cream cheese sandwiches, chips and dip, cookies, heart chocolates and a chocolate fountain with assorted treats.

Along with hot tea and coffee for the adults, Nancy offered strawberry lemonade with sugar-rimmed punch cups for the little girls. Nancy is always so gracious in welcoming children to her home, reminding them not to worry if anything spills. No need to worry, though; the girls at the party were perfect little ladies.

Old-fashioned games kept the girls giggling. Upon arrival, Nancy gave each guest an envelope and encouraged the girls to fill it with the heart stickers that were scattered through the house. Nancy encouraged the girls to use the stickers to decorate the included card -- a perfect Valentine to share with Mommy and Daddy. The girls also played Duck-Duck-Goose; Button, Button, Who's Got the Button? and the Clothespin Game.

All the party guests, ranging in age from 4 to 9, enjoyed sitting down together to make a craft. Nancy gave each girl a gift bag full of beads, then gave each girl a length of wire. Working carefully, the girls made a loop at one end of the wire, threaded beads on in pretty patterns, made a loop at the other end of the wire, and finished the design with a pink bow. These pretty baubles can add a romantic touch to a lamp, door knob or dresser pull.

Nancy couldn't send the girls home without a special delivery: sweet favors she made for each guest.

Nancy sewed pretty bags for all the girls and tucked special treats inside: heart soap, a pencil, an embellished notepad and Valentine socks. She also made each girl's eyes light up with the offer of a huge Valentine  swirl sucker. Here are the Valentine sweets that made the afternoon worth all the effort ...

Wilson Ann, Lynleigh, Kate, Jewel, Mary Reagan, Ann Welch, Lauren, Mary Ashley and Emma made memories to treasure during this special afternoon.

We are so grateful for being invited to this sweet Valentine party. Every detail was a sweet Valentine from the heart of our host, Nancy, to tell the girls ...

"I wish you love."

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day

I love thee -- I love thee,

'Tis all that I can say

It is my vision in the night,

My dreaming in the day.

-- Thomas Hood

"The hours I spend with you I look upon as sort of a perfumed garden, a dim twilight, and a fountain singing to it. You and you alone make me feel that I am alive. Other men it is said have seen angels, but I have seen thee and thou art enough." -- George Moore

"This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you" (John 15:12).

My heart to you is given:

Oh, do give yours to me;

We'll lock them up together,

And throw away the key.

-- Frederick Saunders

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 11, 2011

It's a Date ...

Just when I was beginning to wonder how I could plan a Valentine's Day celebration for my children in the midst of a busy weekend, Mary Ashley and Emma received the darling invitation above to attend a traditional Valentine party.

During the all-girl party, the boys will enjoy some guy time with friends. When 4-year-old Emma heard that the boys will be going to the Lyles' house, she asked me if she could go back to their house sometime. Occasionally we have traded nights of babysitting with the Lyles to give each couple an opportunity for a date night, so Emma asked hopefully, "Could you and Daddy go on a date or something?"

"Well, Emma," I said with a sigh, "Daddy's work schedule is really busy right now, so I don't think he would have time for a date right now."

Seeing the opportunity to play at the Lyles' house slip away, Emma thought and thought and thought some more. No date night for Mommy and Daddy would mean no time in the Lyles' playroom; no opportunity to get in the jump house; no time to eat a snack with Mrs. Lyle. Finally, Emma's eyes brightened as she came to a solution:

"Could you get a boyfriend?"

I guess Emma and I have a few things to talk about on the way to the party this weekend ... . I'll be back next week with more Valentine fun.

It's a date!
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