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Every year you grow in loveliness and grace. Every year you surprise me with new growth, maturity, strength of character, humor and wit.

You are good company…

I am so very thankful for the gift you are to me and to our family. Thank you for your helpful ways, your nurture and care of others, for being such an awesome big sister, for watching my movies with me and shopping with me and for whipping up deliciousness in the kitchen.

You are amazing! Happy birthday, Sweet Elisabeth!

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We really don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Our culture is always on the lookout for new and better, but contentment can almost always be found in what we already have…who we are already blessed to know and love…in the rich experiences we have already enjoyed. And inspiration might already have been written down before!

Although I’m not the most consistent when it comes to keeping a journal, I do find that revisiting old entries is a delight, and often a surprise. As I have continued to seek vision and focus for the new year at hand, I came across this page from my journal and thought it would be fun to share my random, pell-mell thoughts on the atmosphere of home:

December 3, 2011

A lovely and nurturing home environment. A home that is neat and orderly, clean and organized. Filled with beauty, books, comfort and familiarity. Not overwhelmed with clutter, chintzy items of any sort, dirt or cobwebs. Smells fresh and sweet. Nutritious, home-cooked meals on the table. Schedule and routine yet with room for creativity, spontaneity and fun. Beautiful, soul-stirring music played throughout the day. Sink-in seating and cozy corners. Comfortable beds with clean, fresh-smelling linens. Most of our time spent “unplugged”. A vibrant learning environment. Color. Texture. Inspiration and encouragement. Words of love and instruction on our lips. Clean, neat, modest clothing. A healthy, green lawn to run around in. Flowers and plants well-kept and thriving. Outdoor seating with flexibility for meals out in the fresh air. Talents and gifts flourishing. Conversation abundant, interesting, intelligent and life-giving. An open air of hospitality, eager to bless others and offer refreshment and fellowship.
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Does any of this characterize my home right now? Some of it. Some days. But for me this run-on list of disjointed thoughts, dreams and hopes is more of a North Star of ideal home life. A battle plan. A call to action.

What does your ideal home environment look like?

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My sweet girls, after our lunch at the American Girl Bistro and dessert at the Cheesecake Factory

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All Faith wanted was lunch at the Bistro with her sisters (and a couple small things to open)

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The now familiar, traditional birthday breakfast of waffles, bacon and sausage, and juice

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Happy Birthday my sweet, exuberant, loving, smiling, hugging “Faithful” girl!

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Because after all, a boy needs a dog…

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Two years has flown by…what a delight you have been…what a blessing to our family! Happy Birthday, lovely Anna!

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David at Historic Williamsburg

…my life changed forever and for the better. The birth of your older sister started my journey of motherhood, yes. But you…

I quickly learned I didn’t have this thing down like I thought I did. I learned about limitations and the near boundaries of my fragile capabilities. I learned to pray…really pray. I found out I was that mom…the one in the store chasing down the toddler who just snatched the most fragile thing off a nearby shelf and bolted. The one I would have looked down on in my heart in the past with a haughty “I would never!”

You taught me so much about the lavish grace of the Father. How he could love me so much when I disobey so often. How he could be so delighted with me when I had broken so many of the Rules.

Because I am His child.

And you are mine…

Today you are a bright, charming, delightful boy. You are “good company.” Every day I see more of a glimpse of who God has made you to be…another page turned in the Book of your life. A captivating story, a hero tale, an action-packed thriller, a suspenseful mystery.

Today I celebrate you, and worship the God whose craftsmanship and wisdom takes my breath away.

Happy Birthday, David!

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Having a daughter is such a mix of talking and tears, sweetness and drama, giggles and ear-piercing shrieks. Or maybe that’s just my house and my daughters? And yet I wouldn’t trade a minute of it away for any amount of peace and quiet.

Yesterday we transformed our house into a “spa” so that seventeen girls between the ages of three and twelve could come together to celebrate Elisabeth’s 10th birthday. Since we are a large-ish family and especially due to the fact that all our birthdays save my own fall between the months of February and July, my children know that they may expect a special birthday party when they turn five, and again when they turn ten.

So as you may have already guessed, Elisabeth has been plotting and planning for this party for a long time. Years, even.

We tossed around many ideas as the day drew closer. But it was my mention of “let’s ask our friend if she would be willing to do fancy hairstyles, and we could paint nails, too!” that caused her eyes to light up and sparkle. We had found our party theme.

What began with hair and nails quickly snowballed into a spa theme complete with facials, makeup, and goodie bags for each girl filled with a hair clip, lip gloss, nail polish and a bath bomb.

Yeah…it was involved.

And I didn’t mind one bit. It was a pleasure for me to plan, bake, clean, prepare and set up for this pretty, sparkly, special occasion. Elisabeth is such a help to me and has become such a delightful companion. She works hard here at home, helping with Anna and the other children, doing her chores and school work, and really just being my right hand. I can trust her to throw a last-minute meal together, help with setting up when we are entertaining, get younger children ready to leave the house, and on and on the list goes. At (almost) ten years of age, there is a dwindling list of my tasks here in our home that she has not yet mastered. And so I wanted her to know how very thankful I am that she is a part of our family!

So here are some snapshots from the day.

The picture above and below are of Martha Stewart decorations that I found at a local discount store. What would usually cost an arm and a leg was just a few dollars and definitely added color and sparkle to the day. They also happened to be just the colors of pink and blue that we were using for the party.

Beautiful tulips. Lovely and very affordable at this time of year!

If you are a “regular” here or over at my mother’s blog, you may know that we have agreed to put on a dessert reception for my brother’s wedding. For me, to take on such a momentous project involves ideas, brainstorming, and PRACTICE! Birthdays and church events have been the perfect opportunities to test my new skills, but this birthday party was my first real success. Colors, taste and technique all came together beautifully and the girls were thrilled with the results.

The cupcake wrappers are made from scrapbook paper with a die cut that fits my small Sizzix machine. The cake pops were made using a special baking pan (I am not a fan of the crumbled-cake-mixed-with-frosting-rolled-by-hand cake balls…too sweet and too much work!), dipped into colored candy melts (and a tablespoon of Crisco!), and then coated with sprinkles or drizzled with a contrasting color. To display them, I popped a half sphere of floral foam into a round tin, covered it with white tissue paper, and then stuck on a few paper flowers (the kind made for scrapbooking or card making).

Sweet Elisabeth, thoroughly enjoying her special day!

Seventeen lovely ladies, all dolled up (and sugared up too!). My husband took one look at this photo and said “Wow, that’s a lot of little girls!”

Personally, I love homemade occasions. There is an added dimension of meaning and beauty to the day that simply can’t be found at Chuckie Cheese. It’s certainly true that it’s more work, and I’m not sure I even saved much money, but there’s just something about making the house sparkle, pulling out special dishes, putting on music, arranging flowers, and setting things up “just so” for guests that satisfies something deep inside my mommy-heart. Watching Elisabeth flutter between the basket of favors, the antique ironing board which served as a buffet for the cupcakes and cake pops, and the “spa” stations, taking a moment here and there to glance up at the lovely decorations, her eyes sparkling with expectation, made every minute of preparation worth it.

Note about cake pops: I found this ragingly popular little treat to have a steep learning curve. I spent a lot of time researching the process and decorating ideas online and in a couple of books. I don’t plan to do a step-by-step blog entry on how to make cake pops, but I will share a few key tips. If you use a cake pop baking pan or appliance, make the cake batter more dense by adding an extra egg, a box of instant pudding mix, and by switching out the cup of water for 3/4 cup of milk. When placing sticks into the cake balls, dip them first into melted candy. Use a double boiler to melt candy or chocolate, a moderately small one where the top pan can be easily tilted for dipping. Mix in Crisco, about a teaspoon at a time, until the consistency is runny enough to easily drizzle but thick enough to coat. Do not use white chocolate, it is fussy and clumps easily. If you color white (vanilla) candy melts, use oil based candy coloring. Freeze pops for at least 10 minutes before decorating. When coating the pop, cover a little of the top of the stick so pop will remain secure when candy hardens. Tap stick gently against edge of pan to shake off excess candy while twirling to keep coating even. If applying decoration, allow coating to harden for a minute or so first so that the weight of the sprinkles, etc. don’t drag the coating off. A cake pop decorating stand (or two) can be very useful to allow pops to harden completely (Wilton makes a sturdy and inexpensive one). The best book I found for decorating ideas and clear instructions was “Crazy for Cake Pops” by Molly Bakes. And yes. Bakes is her actual last name. Her book was the best because it lists sources and websites for all supplies and decorations, has the best variety of shapes and styles, and had beautiful pictures for every idea listed.

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