Monday, December 6, 2010

White Chocolate

Happy Advent! Lots of stuff has kept me from the keyboard lately! But... I'm pretty excited that our Christmas tree is being featured on DIY Newlyweds today! I've been dreaming of a white tree for five years, and this year I finally took advantage of an early sale and added to my Christmas decor! I've been calling it white chocolate because I decorated with dark brown.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Shopping Bag Cake: Tutorial in Text

I had so much fun making this shopping bag cake for my Aunt's birthday! I started with two 9x13 cakes cut in half lengthwise and stacked 4 high. The great thing about this cake was that I was able to slather buttercream between the layers and over the entire structure without worrying about neatness.

I cut 4 sheets of fondant to fit the dimensions of the cake and wrote the store name in black food coloring. Then I tinted and rolled fondant and cut random shapes for my tissue paper. I let all of this dry overnight.

I applied my sheets to each side of my "bag" and used buttercream on the corner seams. I twirled 12 " strands of black fondant and folded them over the top of of my larger panels for my bag handles. My tissue paper laid on top of the cake.

On the side was a fondant gift tag with a Happy Birthday message paired with a "bracelet" made from black fondant "beads" strung on florist wire.

And there you have it! I would love to do this shopping bag cake again in a couture label or maybe a Victoria's Secret. It was such a simple design but would work for so many occasions!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Homestead

As my family drove down the gravel road that led to my grandparents' homestead, we stopped the car to take in the view one last time. My grandma's house could be seen long before it was actually reached. All my life, I'd welcomed the view of the old house on the hill. As we drove closer, I would watch to see whose vehicles were parked in the driveway. Sometimes we were the only visitors, but more often than not, we were welcome additions to a home already filled with conversation.

Now that hill stands void of the home that held a lifetime of memories, but I was blessed with quiet moments of solitude spent documenting and reflecting on my most cherished memories there.

A white gate greeted visitors at the front of the yard. As children, we would ride as it swung closed. The gate kept us within the safety of our yard games of make-believe, tag, and tree climbing. When we were given permission to explore the land beyond the yard, the gate opened to the grove of trees in the field, from which would would yell at the hill beyond and wait for our echos. The maze of tree roots proves the perfect floor plan for games of house or school. Sometimes we'd trek even further, to the creek and the rock hills that were scattered with wildflowers in the summertime.

The swings were old, made of wooden planks and rusted chains secured to a heavy, metal frame. If you were a seasoned swinger, you could stretch your legs all the way through your toes and just brush the trunk of the old tree that stood before the set.

Beneath the old hickory tree stood a pump house, filled with canned goodies from the garden and fresh cool water that was carried into the house for drinking. When the old heavy door was swung open, I was greeted by a cool, fresh dampness almost like air after a spring rain. A wooden swing hung from a branch of the tree. It was replaced over the years, but the swing always proved the perfect place to visit with my grandma. As children, we'd gather hickory nuts and crack them open on the concrete base of the well. Piles and piles could be gathered at the right time of year.

When Grandpa was alive, we'd watch with anticipation as he stood at the front of the dock, spreading a coffee can of fish food atop the surface of the lake. Sometimes there would be a frenzy of perch, but the real excitement came when someone spied the whiskers of a catfish gulping the pellets. Then it was time to cast the lines and watch for the bobbers to disappear into the water. On overnight visits, we'd take the old fishing boat onto the water and set baited jugs for the catfish, and in the morning, we'd pull the jugs in to see what we'd caught. What a shock it was to find a snapping turtle hooked one morning!

Though my grandparents' home no longer stands behind the old Dinner Bell, the memories and stories are not forgotten. And although it was a sad day when we gathered as family under that roof one last time, I was able to see the excitement of my younger cousin who, at 18, rang the iron bell for dinner for the first time. I was able to hold my grandma's hand and watch my children play with their cousins. I was able to help my kids select trinkets to carry home with them and receive special pieces of my own, so that each of us have a part of that home with us.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Little Star

Christmas is still weeks away, but most people have already begun to prepare for the celebration, be it shopping and crafting gifts for loved ones, baking and freezing cookies, or even displaying a Christmas tree. In my home, funds for Christmas gifts are working into the budget in advance, but short of that, little preparation for the celebration begins before December. The weeks of Advent are traditionally a time to prepare ourselves for Christ's coming. That preparation is two-fold. We prepare ourselves to celebrate The Savior's birth, but perhaps more importantly, we take extra care to see that we are prepared when He comes again. My November preparations, this year, have centered around finding ways to prepare the hearts of my family for Jesus. God sent me the perfect tool to remind my children of Christ's sacrifice for them.

A while back, I was blessed with the opportunity to receive and review a truly great children's book, This Little Prayer of Mine, by Anthony DeStefano. Recently, I opened my mail box to find his newest children's book, Little Star. What a truly unique view from which to tell the Nativity Story! Let's face it, when it comes to The Nativity, it's all too easy for the events to seem mundane, common in the eyes of our children. Mary and Joseph ride a donkey to Bethlehem, have to camp in a stable when there's no room at the inn, Baby Jesus is born, angels sing, shepherds and wise men come. The end. I find it vital that such a sacred story, a gift with such unfathomable value, be presented in a way that instills reverence, excitement, and gratification for God's sacrifice. Little Star accomplishes all three.

As exquisitely illustrated pages turn in this story about the Christmas Star, a beautiful parallel is drawn between the star's role in Jesus' birth and the role that Jesus plays in our divinity. One Little Star gives everything it has to Jesus, and Jesus gave everything he had in his life on Earth for us. The comparison was easily understood by my four-year-old son, and the story continues to stir conversations about The Nativity.

For now, I've tucked the book away, waiting until the Advent season to bring it out again. I'm praying that the story continues to feed my children's awareness of God's sacrificial gift of His Son. I pray that you, too, are given tools this season to share the true meaning of Christmas with your children, not so much kindness and charity (though these are important), but the celebration of Christ humbling himself so that we may live forever with Him in Heaven.

Happy Holidays,

Friday, September 10, 2010

Mamma M's 5 Question Friday: September 10th

1. Do you feel guilty spending money on yourself?

Not usually. I mostly feel guilty about frivolous purchases altogether. It might be a super cute shirt for Little Mister, a to-die-for hat for Little Miss, or a hardback book for Big Sister that I know I wait and purchase in paperback. And it might be a shirt that I bought regular price because I loved it that much.

2. How well do you know your neighbors?

Our next-door neighbors are my first cousins, and my aunt and uncle live one more house away. It's nice to know that if anything ever happens, reliable people are so close.

Last night (randomly) my husband and I perused the sex offender list for our town... I really would hate to live next to someone on that list and not have a clue! One of them lives on a street we almost moved to not so long ago. Scary and sad... enough said.

3. What age are you looking forward to being?

I really wouldn't want to speed up time. Heaven knows it passes faster than I'd like already. I'm looking forward to 33 and 43. At 33, at the latest, we'll be free from student loan debt. THAT will be an awesome feeling and will open up so many options in our life. At 43, we'll be at the start of our empty nest, and I can't wait to see where God leads us in that phase of our marriage. I love, love, love my kids and our life together, but I'm so looking forward to being a mom of adult children as well!

4. Do you get excited when the mail comes? Why?

Not really. I don't hate it. I don't love it. It's just a daily occurrence like showers and laundry. Now, the UPS or FedEx arrival?? Definitely excitement!

5. What is your earliest childhood memory?

I few years ago, I told my mom about a memory of mine in a playpen in a bedroom with 70's brown carpet. It turns out that that my parents has purchased and remodeled a rental house, and I had spent the majority of the work hours playing in a playpen in the brown carpeted bedroom. I was one.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Mamma M's 5 Question Friday: September 3rd

1. What do you do when you have time to yourself?
For the past couple weeks, it's been yoga or a walk/jog. Hubby's been gone until bedtime most days for the past six months, so my daily kid-free time is sparse!

I save computer time for the kids' daily movie- this morning they're watching High School Musical 2. It was Little Miss' turn to choose, but Little Mister secretly enjoys breaking down to some of the faster songs.

2. When you look out your kitchen window, what do you see?
We live on a hill, and my kitchen window looks up the hill behind our house. Trees sit scattered and my grandma's rock flower bed perimeter sits still begging me to revive it. A line of dirt still sits from the drainage pipes that were installed during the renovation. Up the hill 50 yards is the forest line, full of oak trees with already fading green leaves.

3. Who/What would you want to be reincarnated as?
Man, as much as I love my life and appreciate this wonderful world, I'm really hoping that I don't get stuck back here to do it all over again after I kick the bucket. I'd much rather be walking in Paradise!

4. What is your biggest pet peeve about other people's kids?
Kids who forget their manners in someone else's home and act like they run the place. Now, admittedly, my kids are not the perfect house guests either, so they drive me nuts sometimes as well.

5. Regular or Diet soda?

Diet Dr. Pepper. But it's been weeks since I've had much but water. I had a McDonald's DDP after ten days of none, and I have to say, it wasn't fabulous. I'm beginning to see that it was more habbit than true enjoyment! :-)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Best Medicine: Shutter Love Tuesday

Even years later, this picture of my then boyfriend (now husband) and my sister cracks me up-- After all... laughter is contagious!

PS- this was taken just hours before he took me for a walk under the stars and popped The Question!


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Mamma M's 5 Question Friday: August 27th

1. How many pets do you have?

Two cats, a brother and sister of our old cat who stayed behind to hunt mice at our old residence. We had a dog not so long ago who was not so nice and had to be put down. Maybe someday we'll have another... If we do, I want to get this kind. Crazy, I know, but they're coats are virtually maintenance free, and they're supposed to be fairly low-maintenance in general. Plus, how fun would it be to walk this dog around town?

2. If you could switch places with anyone in the world for one day, who would it be?

I'd say some rich lady on vacation in Greece, but I'd be afraid to let her have my life for the day. I don't think my kids would appreciate a stranger in the house! I think I'd like to switch places with Big Sister- classic Freaky Friday, right? I think it'd be very interesting to see her around her teachers and friends for a day.

3. What is your favorite money saving tip?

Stay home more. If you're not out and about, it's way harder to spend money!

4. What do you want your kids to be when they grow up?

Mostly, I just pray that each of them follows the vocations God intends. I would LOVE to see Little Mister serving God as a priest someday, or the girls as nuns. If they are called to married life, I want my son to be a strong leader of his family and my daughters to be the hearts of their homes. What I THINK they'll be is a different question entirely, but I'd bet money that Big Sister will work with animals in some way! The other two are too young to speculate!

5. What is your favorite quote?

It requires less character to discover the faults of others than it does to tolerate them.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Simple Woman's Daybook: November 1st

For Today... November 1, 2010

Outside my window... Grey skies and crisp air might be depressing on some days, but I'm personally excited to ditch all the jack-o-lanterns around here and replace them with Thanksgiving touches!

From the kitchen... the espresso maker brewed up a great white chocolate late this morning. I'm off to a Williams-Sonoma cooking class tonight with a great friend. It's a Thanksgiving dinner class, and I hope to pick up a few tips and ideas!

From the Learning Rooms... Lots of counting these days. Little Mister is working on counting by 10's, and his reading skills seem to be growing steadily. Little Miss, always on her own schedule, surprised us a few weeks ago with her alphabet song. It was nice to know that my efforts weren't being ignored. Now we're working on learning letters. It's been difficult to introduce new concepts to her because I don't want to push them if she hasn't mastered the building blocks needed for a new skill.

I am creating...

I was really happy with the weekend's cake!
Little Miss and I are already planning her birthday cake- Strawberry Shortcake. I can't believe she's almost three...

I am praying... for Baby Ella and her family... and all families who have lost a child to anencephaly.

Around the house... It's a disaster. Let's face it. There are toys everywhere!

One of my favorite things...

The rare times when these two get along well enough for a sweet picture. Little Mister isn't the most affectionate big brother, but we're working on it!

A few plans for the rest of the week... Amidst the normal taxiing, a horse is being delivered to my parents' farm. It's finally one that Big Sister will be able to ride. That means that it's time to arrange for riding lessons and riding gear. I've been praying for a way to give her a shot as the activity she's passionate about, and it's still hard to believe that I'm going to be able to provide her with this opportunity!

Here is a picture thought I am sharing with you...

The eskimo...

The super-heroine...

And the video game heros...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Home Away from Home: Shutter Love Tuedsay

Since I was born, we've taken trips every other year to Garden City Beach, South Carolina. It's so difficult to express the feeling of driving down Waccamaw Drive, getting the first glimpse of the Atlantic and that first whiff of ocean air. I'm so blessed with a husband that has climbed right on board and let me continue the tradition in our life together, and I was SO excited when we were able to share the experience with Little Mister and Little Miss for the first time!


Thursday, July 29, 2010


When you come to visit my grandma, the first thing you'll notice is an old iron dinner bell at the front of her yard, rising twenty feet in the air, still standing strong though its task of calling the family in for supper has long since been relinquished.

The dinner bell has always signaled the hubbub of family coming together in the kitchen to share good food, good stories, and simple love.

As children, it called us in from our explorations of the farm, fishing escapades, and games of house in the tree grove. We would kick off our shoes on the way into the crowd and weave a path toward the line already forming at the buffet style meal. Cheesy potatoes, pasta, meatloaf, homemade rolls, corn and green beans fresh from the garden awaited.

As teens, the bell interrupted conversations with cousins on yard swings, walks down to dusty road to the creek, and quiet reflecting. We piled plates with slightly more sensible food choices and headed to the back bedroom where extra tables sat on the blue shag carpet.

As parents, it urged us to fill plates for little ones. We settled bibbed babies into high chairs and left aunts or husbands to tend them while we joined the back of the line to fill our own plates.

The dinner bell was never to be rang without permission, and only a few times can I remember watching the result of a child sounding a false alarm. But many tempted hands reached for the heavy chain that hung almost out of arms' reach, wanting to see what muscle was needed to pull it. Once or twice, it was my turn to ring the bell. I remember grabbing the chain as high up as I could reach and hanging with all my weight... once, twice, three times to create the clang that delighted my ears.

It's been years since I've heard the hollow dong of that bell. It stands now as a yard ornament, and my children will not share my memories of it. Now, holidays are celebrated at the homes of aunts and uncles, and a quick shout out the front door or call on a cell phone is all that is needed for dinner to begin.

For now, my grandma's house stands lonely, hopeful for her return from her extended hospital stay... eager to wrap her once again in the memories of happy marriage, family love, and joyous blessings created within the walls of that old house. And rest assured, the first Sunday meal shared after her return will most definitely start with the dong of that old dinner bell.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Seeking Direction

Laying beside my sleeping husband a couple nights ago, my mind was wandering aimlessly, noting the to-do's of the next day, wondering about the changes ahead of us, and finally mulling over what on earth to do about our son. Abruptly, I remembered unpacking books from the final moving boxes the week before, in particular, The Power of a Praying Parent. I felt compelled to retrieve the book right then, but the fear of being too tired to mother in the morning kept me under the covers, as if that's a valid reason to resist the nudging of God.

Tonight, I sat down in the midst of the day's aftermath and opened the cover for the first time since Big Sister was a toddler. I dredged through the typical first chapter introduction, wondering if I'd be able to focus long enough to get to the meat of it. After pages of preparation scattered with scripture, I prayed the chapter's concluding prayer and meditated momentarily over the words.

Then my worries, guilt, frustrations, anger, ignorance, and lack of direction came pouring out jumbled and precise, beautiful and disgusting. I prayed for my son in a way that I never have, adding another guilt to unload through my prayer. I sat by his bed with my hand on his back, offering my son's life and my parenting for the glory of God. I cried a storm of silent tears sitting there with my hand on his little back.

Almost instantaneously, God directed me back to His path. The path that was familiar not so long ago seems so uncomfortable in this moment. Where I was wandering aimlessly through our days, our life, my son was following diligently. Oh, how I pray that he follows me as I struggle to get back on God's track with my mothering!

Pour our your heart like water in the presence of the Lord; Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your little ones. (Lamentations 2:19)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Shopper's Club

I'm officially in the Etsy shoppers' club! My first purchase: laundry room decor...

I scored these 1920-30's child hangers for $22. Judge if you like, but it was a steal compared to the 1 not-so-cute one I managed to find at the local antique mall for $15.

I have grand plans to hang some vintage children's clothing on these hangers and pair the set with the antique washboard I brought home and the wooden vintage-inspired laundry sign I picked up at Hobby Lobby. I know decorating a laundry room isn't on everyone's priority list, but mine happens to be doorless and wide open to the most socialized room in our house-- the kitchen!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Photographing Yours

Originally posted last year...

6 Practical Tips for Photographing Your Kids

  • Get way above him or down on his level. Find a chair to boost yourself, lay on your stomach, put him on a couch and kneel. Getting above him makes for bigger eyes, but in general, seeing eye to lens with your kid is a great angle.
  • Lower your expectations. Don't expect a 2 year old to pose like a teenager. Go with the flow, and keep snapping. You never know what might look amazing once it's off the camera. That said...
  • Have lots of ideas. Be prepared to present a high-energy, engaging experience, and your child is more likely to think of pictures as a game rather than an obligation. Just don't forget to let her be in charge so long as she's safe.
  • Up the frequency, not the duration. Simply cutting time in front of your camera will do wonders for a munchkin. I find it very effective to shoot 15 minutes at a time or less, but I take portrait potential shots every couple weeks.
  • Timing is Everything. Spontaneity is priceless. Notice she's in a particularly happy mood? Grab the opportunity. Love the outfit you put together, or is he having a good hair day for once? Maybe she's just miraculously stain free. Take advantage! Make sure that your child has napped and is fed if you do plan ahead.
  • Appearance is (almost) everything. There is a big difference between a picture of him in jeans/solid shirt/styled hair and his underwear/favorite stained spongebob tee/bed head. Stick with simple, tastefully trendy, or bold and bright. Generally, avoid images, obvious logos, and words. Don't forget about shoes. None to match? Bare feet are better! Accessories can be a great plus too. Hats for boys or girls, belts for boys, bracelets, purses, hair bows, or rings. Just be careful not to overdo it-- unless you're going for the "found mommy's jewelry box" angle!
  • Group shots-- It doesn't have to be a screaming match to get them all together. Make it a contest, game, or adventure- whatever gets them close and looking at you. Who cares if they think they're pirates? All the "Arrrg, Mateys!" are bound to make them crack a smile eventually.
  • BE PATIENT. And not just for the duration of a "shoot." Getting a picture you want to hang in your house can take several tries. Just treat it like playing with your kid, and you'll end up capturing something priceless!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Sweet Summertime

Little Miss is at my FAVORITE photography age... the age where you can easily capture those natural smiles, the age where there's an abundance of silliness, the age where they're still able to ignore a camera and just play.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence Day Reflections

I can't begin to describe how it felt to have my family of 5 all under the same roof again this weekend. Big Sister had been at her dad's for three weeks and returned tonight for another stretch of visit, but for a brief 36 hours, we were complete again! For a day and a half, the younger two got a tiny taste of the life they're used to, the one with a big sister to direct the games... For a day and a half, I was able to listen to the theories of an almost-ten-year-old, the bizarre and the insightful. For a while, I was able to coax the laughter and silliness from a girl who has seemed out of sorts during our phone conversations.

Independence Day is always a bit of an oxymoron in my life. The years when I get to spend the holiday with Big Sister are like tiny islands in the midst of a sea of six weeks without her, and I am reminded of how much I long for independence from custody arrangements. Each year on Independence Day, I revel in being another year closer to a time when custody arrangements will be mute, when Big Sister will be an adult, fully able to make her own decisions, able to live by a visitation schedule that she chooses.

I can't blame anyone but myself, of course. After all, my decisions led her and I straight to the lives we're living... good lives, but not ones free from the scars of my poor decisions, decisions with outcomes made glorious through God's grace. Tonight, while the countryside explodes with the sparkle and glow of the celebration of freedom, I sit thinking of the empty bed upstairs and pray for God's continued hand in Big Sister's life and trust that she will continue to grow in faith, confidence, and wisdom.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Dipping My Toes Back In...

Well... an unintentional blogging break- have to admit, it's felt great not to bother with my computer past my email account for the last month! My break from the world wide web really started on our family vacation to Colorado the first of June. Having misplaced my car charger, I found myself without a cell phone for the majority of the trip. I checked my messages periodically, but that was it- no ringing potential, no clock, no option to text or call anyone.


It made me wish we could cancel our cell service and set up the old land line answering machine. Life is just simpler without the expectation that you'll be available at everyone's beck and call.

And so I decided to let myself neglect the internet in exchange for time with the kids, time to catch up on business, time with family, and most importantly time with God. It's been a peaceful month, one full of craziness, vehicle problems, weddings, and too many day trips, but so much peace through it all. I think we should all soak up a stretch of old-fashioned simplicity once in a while and take the time to enjoy the life around us that God created... not Microsoft or Apple.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Simple Woman's Daybook: May 4th

For Today... May 4, 2010

Outside my window... I literally can't see the sky through the trees anymore. My flower bed is looking slightly more tame after the hour I spent pulling weeds, but it's still a disorganized mess after a decade or more of neglect! I think the best bet is to pull it all up come fall and reorganize... now if I just had a clue what I was doing!

I'm going to try my hand at a few tomato plants this year. Just 3-4, but they'll get planted next week! Hopefully we'll be able to satisfy Hubby's craving for garden tomatoes this year.

From the kitchen... Today I'm making broccoli salad and tuna salad to eat for lunches this week. Also on the menu are Chicken Parmesan and Garlic Chicken... and we'll see what E-mealz has in store for the rest of the week!

I am wearing... blue PJ pants, greet camisole. Kinda pathetic, I know. I should've been in the shower hours ago.

From the Learning Rooms... Reading, writing, and addition. I'm working on a final thematic unit to finish off the year... Then it's on to institutional preschool next year.

I am creating... Necklaces. This is my first:

And a new cake that left me wanting to do some real high heels.

I am praying... that God will bless my little sister and her fiance as they job hunt.

Around the house... general tidying is in order for today. Lots of random toys and games have made their way out of the kids' bedrooms.

One of my favorite things... my new stacking laundry baskets. I finally have some semblance of organization in my laundry room!

A few plans for the rest of the week... A trip to the zoo on Saturday for the USO's Day at the Zoo, my parents' anniversary on Saturday, and Mother's Day on Sunday!

Here is a picture thought I am sharing with you...

I'm going to miss this scene this summer! There's just something about the beach... isn't there?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

St. Louis Adventure Rundown

We had a great pseudo-weekend in St. Louis last week! We stopped by the Whittle Shortline Railroad in Valley Park. Where I picked up Little Mister's train table from a Craig's List ad, the seller told me about the store/play area. We finally got around to venturing off the interstate. It was so worth it- there were four wooden train tables including one that must've been 20 feet long. The kids were able to stand in the open area in the middle of the table and play. The store itself was a little disappointing. The selection of trains was similar to a really great toy store... but no one was begging me to purchase anything, so it was really a good thing!

We grabbed lunch and headed to Laumeier Sculpture Park. The kids ended up leading me on a 2 hour hike through the park's woods. Even Little Miss trekked the whole way.

We headed to Jilly's Cupcake Bar for a sweet indulgence. The kids loved their treat, and I had fun watching their excitement and enjoyment! Probably not worth the expense, but it was a fun splurge nonetheless!

We checked into our hotel next, and the kids enjoyed watching TV until Daddy got off work and joined us. I found it pretty amusing that my poor satellite-less children were so pumped to watch Word Girl and Animal Planet.

With Daddy, we stopped by Hobby Lobby and headed to Texas Roadhouse for dinner... then back to the hotel for bedtime!

The next morning we attended a story time that was part of the St. Louis Storytelling Festival. It was one of those presentations that included goofy songs, got the kids bouncing and singing along, and was generally a fabulous free 45 minutes. The storyteller is the children's librarian in Columbia, MO and made me want to drive there for her story hours!

The event took place in the St. Louis Carousel building in Faust Park, so we paid our $4 and all rode the carousel before we headed home.