Birthday Blessings

Flying home from Erie, PA on that chilly autumn evening I sat in the back of the plane and I wept. As tears stained my face I thought of the children I left behind. And I thought about all of those people making choices for their lives before they can make choices for themselves. Then I thought of Lillian and her little friends who are all celebrating third birthdays. Beautiful girls and boys leading joy filled lives with people diligently striving to make quality choices for them. They are sweet and innocent and too young to possibly comprehend all of the blessings they have been given. I thought about my daughter’s weekend birthday party. The pictures I took of laughing faces, the sweet taste of sugar from her Minnie Mouse cake. How we transformed our home with pink and white polka dotted balloons, sparkling Minnie Mouse banners and packages adorned with iridescent bows. 

Beyond the themed birthday parties, fancy cakes and the toy filled room. Beyond the stack of books, the recent autumn adventures to the pumpkin patch, zoo and neighborhood trick or treating.

Beyond the enriching classes at the library, Kindermusik, Little Gym, and the swimming pool. Beyond the overflowing closet full of clean clothes, shoes, oversized hair bows and accessories. Beyond the quality dental and healthcare. Beyond the healthy food, clean water and opportunity to safely play outside.

Lillian, the best gift you received that day was the room filled with family and friends who took the time out of their busy, stressful lives on that November afternoon to celebrate you. People who love and care for you and relish in your accomplishments. People from far away sending you cards through the mail and virtual greetings via social media. Individuals cheering you on while you reach for a new milestone, reassuring you when you feel uneasy and setting high expectations for your future. Through their guidance and encouragement you will grow to be the best “you” a little girl could possibly be. This my dear one is a birthday gift that will last a lifetime.

The family and friends who love and support my daughter.
Perhaps you are wise beyond your freshly turned three years. For after you opened your last gift on that monumental day your Godmother, Aunt Kay Kay, heard you whisper in a soft sweet voice, “Lucky Baby.” Lillian, you are my smart and stunning little “lucky baby” but I am the lucky one because you chose me am to be your “noteworthy mommy.”

The “lucky baby” with her “noteworthy mommy.”

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood 

My daughter is obsessed with everything Daniel Tiger! “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” is an animated children’s television series targeted at preschool-aged children. The program is based on the “Neighborhood of Make-Believe” from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” the long-running family-oriented television series created and hosted by Fred Rogers. Little Lillian loves watching the show and reading Daniel Tiger books. She has a red toy trolley complete with the “ding ding” sound effect and a miniature Daniel Tiger (dressed in Fred Roger’s iconic red sweater) that fits perfectly inside. The steps in our home have been transformed into a trolley and Lillian asks family and friends to take an imaginary ride to the library, grocery store or doctor’s office on a daily basis. Lillian enjoys acting out the show’s familiar opening scene by sitting in her little chair and singing “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” while carefully putting her shoes on. Our little girl is filled with great imagination!

While watching Daniel Tiger and his friends I am transported back to my childhood where I enjoyed watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and became enchanted with Daniel Striped Tiger, Henrietta Pussycat, King Friday, Mr. McFeely and others in “The Land of Make Believe.” Many of these characters (or their offspring) appear in “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” When I watch the show with my daughter its like seeing old friends from forty years ago! This new show carries on Fred Roger’s legacy by supporting whole child development and is based upon Fred Rogers’ six principles of learning readiness. I am reminded of the the importance of childhood play, discovery, creativity and imagination. ​​Another show highlight are the catchy strategy songs that introduce the preschool set to social/emotional themes: feelings, confidence, new experiences, self control, responsibility and kindness. We enjoy listening to the songs in the car and at home while we play.  Sometimes I find myself humming the songs throughout the day and I have spent several sleepless nights with the songs playing over and over in my head!

Meeting Daniel Tiger
Last week I felt like I was living in a real life musical. Not a bad place to be since I absolutely adore Broadway theater! It all began while I was preparing breakfast. My mini me peered up at me and sang, “When you wait, you can sing, play or imagine anything.” A song she learned from watching Daniel Tiger! I was impressed that she was singing the song at the appropriate time and she didn’t miss a single lyric. Since it was Saturday, Daddy was home and he joined his girls in building a huge castle out of blocks. That’s when we heard her sweet voice sing, “I like to be with my family. Family time is special.” When she tried to use the potty she belted out, “If you have to go potty, stop and go right away. Flush and wash and be on your way.” And when it was time to clean up before bed she sang, “Clean up, pick up, put away, clean up everyday!” Although she did a better job singing than picking up any of her toys, it was clear she was learning a lot from watching Daniel Tiger and his friends. 

Our neighborhood trolley!
In late August the Saint Charles County Library System sponsored a special story time and trolley ride with Daniel Tiger. Lillian was thrilled to meet Daniel Tiger and I was pleased to see my daughter enjoy something I adored as a child. It was an exciting day in our neighborhood and we made a special memory this neighbor will never forget!

A Wonderous Voyage 

When my family and I embarked on a seven day cruise to Alaska on the Disney Wonder I was prepared for a truly magical experience. But after a challenging flight where I had to physically restrain my two year old during take off ( in fear that we would get kicked off the plane) I was beginning to have my doubts about the trip. She didn’t improve as we made our way through the ship’s boarding procedure, refusing to have anyone but mommy console her and I ended up carrying her every step of the way. Sadly, our trip was quickly losing its magic.

Once on the ship we encountered crowded elevators and a mass of people making their way up to deck nine for the castaway party. Through all of the chaos a mother and her daughter caught my attention. They were positively glowing and I don’t know if I was attracted to them because of their fashionable nautical wardrobe or the fact that as mother and daughter they looked so happy to simply be together. I admired their special bound and hope my daughter and I have a relationship like theirs when she grows into a young adult.

We made our way up to deck nine with only minutes to spare before showtime. There were people everywhere and even more people looking down on us from deck ten! As we frantically looked for a place to stand, a Disney cast member took down the rope blocking a gazebo and ushered us inside, giving us the perfect spot to see the show! My daughter shimmered with excitement as Mickey Mouse and friends filled the stage with animated enthusiasm. We danced along to the spirited party music and Chip the Chipmunk captured her heart by blowing a kiss her way!

After the characters and dancers left the stage I turned around. To my surprise, there was the mother/daughter pair who had caught my eye outside the elevators on our frenzied dash to the show! I continued to feel drawn to them and wrangled between approaching them and keeping to myself. Although I questioned my decision, something inside of me pushed away any decisiveness and I made my way over to them. I quickly explained that I usually don’t approach random strangers but wanted to complement them on their stylish cruise attire. They in turn complemented my family and I on our matching cruise t-shirts, adding that they enjoyed watching my little princess dance. I told them we were on the cruise to celebrate my parents’ 49th wedding anniversary (visiting our 49th state for 49 years of marriage.) Through teary eyes they told me they were cruising together in memory of their beloved husband/father who passed on a year ago after a tremendous fight with cancer. I am not an overly emotional person but tears welled in my eyes as I immediately embraced them and said, “Your husband/father is here on the cruise with you. I don’t know how to explain it but I just feel his presence.” I assured them I wasn’t claiming to be a medium or a psychic or anything like that. It was just something I felt that I couldn’t completely articulate.

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Tracee and Brooklyn pose for a picture with me and my mini me!
We continued our conversation and I discovered twenty-year old Brooklyn, wise beyond her years, was an only child and a college student interested in pursing the health profession. Tracee (with two Es) was a proud Momma who beamed with pride when she described the dedicated care Brooklyn showed her father during his heart wrenching struggle.

After meeting Tracee and Brooklyn I completely changed my attitude about the trip. I no longer worried about everything going smoothly. Suddenly my daughter’s toddler meltdowns and the fact that we wouldn’t be able to do and see everything seemed insignificant. (our big dog sledding on a glacier experience was cancelled due to weather) Instead, my focus shifted to spending quality time together (with the added bonus of having the majestic views of Alaska as our backdrop). As Carly, our delightful cruise director stated, “Now is the time to disconnect with the outside world and reconnect with your family.” So that is exactly what I did and I will never forget the memory of seeing my brave little girl grin from ear to ear as she danced with Minnie Mouse or the quality time my dad and I spent sipping hot cocoa on our private verandah after the rest of our family went to bed. As we passed seals riding on ice bergs, viewed amazing waterfalls flowing down mountainsides and stood in awe gazing at the Mendenhall Glacier, we were creating magical memories. Delightful memories that I will no longer take for granted. 1572-12152152-Tracy Arm-26947_GPR.jpg

Although I saw Tracee and Brooklyn several times throughout our Alaskan adventure we never exchanged email addresses and I left the ship knowing I would never see them again. However, I will never forget them and will treasure the moment we shared and the lessons they taught me on that wonderous day. They reminded me to focus on the little miracles in life. As I further reflect on my encounter with Tracee and Brooklyn I realize the Holy Spririt was at work in me that day. God used me to speak to Tracee and Brooklyn and I was open to listening to Him. I am reminded that God is always with us and He can speak to us at anytime, even on a crowded cruise ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean!

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Tee for Two

We discovered our daughter’s affection for golf a few months ago during a weekend trip to the lake house. My in-laws have two plastic golf bags complete with plastic clubs and plastic golf balls (probably leftover from when our teenage nephews were wee ones) in their garage. Our little princess spotted them and immediately wanted to explore. She spent hours that weekend throwing the golf balls and carefully taking the clubs in and out of the colorful golf bags. With great tanicity she tried hitting the ball with the club. Although unsuccessful, the smile on her face remained, innocently oblivious to the fact that she wasn’t meeting her objective. She remained positive throughout her trial and error and saw the pure fun in the activity. This is a trait I hope she retains for the rest of her life. She glowed with excitement simply seeing the golf ball move and when the ball hit the tile floor she squealed with delight. She enjoyed her mini golf set so much that she preferred it over any toy or activity that weekend.

We returned to the lake house in November. Our family makes a pilgrimage to the lake house every Thanksgiving and together we enjoy fellowship, good food and a lot of laughs. Since the lake house is on a golf course my husband and his father occasionally experience a warm November day and get in a round of golf between the leftover turkey and pumpkin pie. This year my father in law took advantage of the mild weather and played a round of golf the day before Thanksgiving.

The golf course was empty that day. The only movement was from a few lonely oak leaves that were slowly being blown across the green by the brisk November wind. I mentioned to my daughter, Lillian, that we might see Paw Paw come past the house during his golf game. He called us as he was approaching the 15th hole (the hole closest to the house) and we all rushed outside. Then over the hill came Paw Paw in a golf cart! Lillian’s eyes lit up like a Christmas tree when she spotted him. With ever growing anticipation she eagerly took his hand and walked to the golf cart that he had parked on the edge of the yard. He gently lifted her into the cart, put his arm around his tiny passenger and took off to finish hole 15 which over looks the beautiful Lake of the Ozarks at the bottom of the hill.

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Paw Paw and Lillian ready to take off in the golf cart!
As they took off in the cart I began to walk after them, carefully keeping my distance as not to interrupt the exchange between teacher and student. When the golf cart reached its destination she helped Paw Paw select a club and gently took his hand as he led her to the tiny ball on the green. And all the while she was obedient, following all of Paw Paw’s directions and hanging on to his every word as he told her where to stand. She watched her Paw Paw with unwavering determination as he placed the ball on the tee, set his eye on the hole, adjusted his stance and drew the club back to take a swing. When the ball rolled into the hole, upon Paw Paw’s approval, she ran to the hole and retrieved the golf ball for him. I began to head back to the house as I expected Paw Paw to turn the golf cart around and return his passenger to the house so he could play the last three holes without an audience. So imagine my surprise when I saw the golf cart disappear in the distance as it moved towards hole 16! Paw Paw’s little golf caddy played the last three holes with him and enjoyed each hole as if it was the first.

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Watching and learning.
She returned from her “Tee for Two” adventure with two golf tees clutched in her chubby little fist. A treasure she had uncovered on hole 15. She handled her prized possessions gently as if they were a delicate porcelain tea cup.

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My father in law didn’t get a hole in one or beat his average that day. In fact, he didn’t even keep score! However on that partly cloudy day in late November I witnessed the best golf game ever played. For a truly magical thing happened on the golf course that day. It was the day a grandfather taught his granddaughter about the game of golf, sharing one of his passions with his youngest grandchild.

Since I had Lillian later in life what a gift it is that Lillian has the opportunity to share these special moments with her grandparents. I feel blessed that all four of them live locally, are in good health and have been actively involved in every stage of her life over the past two years. Memories were being made on the green that day which were far more valuable than a birdie or even a hole in one!

Tea for Two!

Lillian turned two on November 5, 2016. We celebrated with our parents and friends by hosting a “Tea for Two” birthday party.

I have always enjoyed planning and hosting themed parties so when we selected the “Tea for Two” birthday theme for our little princess I eagerly jumped right in and began planning.

It all began with the perfect “Tea for Two” birthday invitation. The front of the invitation contained the party details and the back of the invitation gave the guests a glimpse of what the party would include…

Savories, sweets, cake and tea. Please come celebrate my 2nd birthday with me! Running late, don’t worry,  join us when you can. The pleasure of your company is the best gift I could plan!

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Lillian’s birthday invitation.
Decorations     We chose pink and purple as the signature colors. My friend Phil allowed me to use his Cricut Machine and helped me cut out tea cup and teapot shapes and my dad cut out and helped me assemble banners that we hung throughout the house. The tables were adorned with pink and purple linen table cloths with a treasured teapot and tea cups carefully placed in the center. A miniature rubber duck (one of my daughter’s favorite things) decked out in a birthday hat sat atop tea colored raffia grass in each tea cup. Tea cups on each table also held mixed party nuts and chocolate candies for guests to snack on.

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The handmade “Tea for Two” party banners.

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The dessert table with the birthday cake and yummy homemade sweets made by my mom.

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Centerpieces that adorned the tables.
The Dress     I wanted a classic look for my little lady to wear at her birthday tea party so I turned to Etsy. I really liked the smocking work on the dresses at The Classic Baby. The owner, Lucinda Taylor, made a customized dress for us that matched the pink and purple colors used in the decorations. She used a light pink gingham fabric for the dress and bright pink and purple thread for the smocked teapots. I purchased some light pink satin Mary Jane shoes and lace socks to complete the outfit.

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Handmade smocked teapot dress.
Tiny Tea Cups     The littles sat in child sized chairs at an old wooden kindergarten table I used in my kindergarten classroom. They drank milk or water from special purple or pink tea cup shaped sippy cups. I found the festive cups at Oriental Trading and built the color scheme for the party around the cups. They got to take their cups home so they could have their own tea party the next day.

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The pink and purple tea cup sippy cups!

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A birthday tea party!
The Menu     I wanted our guests to enjoy an array of savory and sweet treats so they would feel like they were attending a proper afternoon tea. Food was placed on crystal and glass cake stands of various heights. The cake stands were embellished with decorative dollies and silver serving pieces. Little tea pot signs which described the yummy treats were strategically placed throughout. With the help of my mother (who made the homemade sweets) and my mother-in-law (who helped with the savories) our guests enjoyed the following…

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A variety of savories.

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Teapot shaped sandwiches for the littles.
img_6145Savories                                                        

Mini Cranberry Chicken Salad Sandwiches 

Cucumber Sandwiches                                     

Mini Quiches                                                     

Spiral Sandwiches                                  

 Bruschetta Cups                                                  

Fruit Kabobs                                            

 Vegetable Tray                                                      

Tea Pot Shaped Cheese Sandwiches            

 Mini Tea Pot Shaped PBJ Sandwiches 

Goldfish Crackers (one of the birthday girl’s favorite treats)

Scones                                                                          

Chocolate Chip                                              

 Mixed Berry                                            

 Pumpkin with Maple Glaze                                       

Sweets                                                                

Iced Tea Pot Sugar Cookies                                

Pink and Purple Spritz Cookies                        

Strawberry/Chocolate Cake Balls                  

Brownies                                                            

 Vanilla Cupcakes                                                  

Birthday Cake 

Birthday Cake     The beautiful birthday cake was ordered from J Noto’s Bakery in St. Peters, MO. I didn’t have a photo to show them exactly what I wanted but the decorator matched my vision and the cake represented the “Tea for Two” theme perfectly. While the decadent cake looked fabulous it tasted even better then it looked! The top tier was chocolate cake with chocolate Bavarian cream filling. The bottom tier was white cake with raspberry filling.

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A decadent “Tea for Two” birthday cake.
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Activities     Since the children are only two years old I kept the activities simple and mess free. The littles enjoyed coloring tea themed coloring pages and had fun decorating teapot cut outs with shiny stickers. After the activity everyone moved into our great room where I read the book, I’m a Little Teapot, written and illustrated by Iza Trapani. The playful book follows the teapot as it dreams of going on exciting adventures. From a bullfight in Spain, to the opera, and through the jungle, the teapot ends up back home where it delights friends and family with a hot pot of tea! Each verse is written in rhyme and can be sung to the traditional song, “I’m a Little Teapot.”  Every guest signed a special birthday greeting in the book for Lillian to read when she gets older. Before Lillian opened presents, I led the group in singing the song, “I’m a Little Teapot” and I shared a special verse I wrote for my little girl on her second birthday.

Favors     Each child went home with a goody bag that contained a tea pot sucker, tea themed stickers, a small tea pot note pad, a birthday rubber ducky, Play Doh, and a bag of Goldfish Crackers. The adults went home with a “Tea for Two” goody bag so they could enjoy tea with someone special when they got home. The bags contained a tea cup and saucer or a mug, a biscotti, Milano Cookies, two tea bags, a chocolate spoon and two squares of Ghirardelli Chocolate. Since we selected the birthday theme months before the big day, my mom and dad helped me collect tea cups and mugs at thrift shops and yard sales. The bags were tied with pink raffia and purple ribbon and contained a custom tag with a picture of Lillian along with the special verse I wrote for her.

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The favors, the Beatrix Potter heirloom tea set we bought Lillian and the “I’m a Little Teapot” book for the guests to sign.

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The goody bag for adults.

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The goody bag for the littlest guests.
This is the special verse I wrote for Lillian and it was printed on the goody bag tags. It pretty much sums up the party which was enjoyed by all.

I’m a little girl named Lillian Clare. I’m wearing a dress and a bow in my hair. Today’s my 2nd birthday and I’d like to share. Tea for Two is the perfect pair! 

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It was a “tea”riffic “Tea for Two” birthday party!
Mommy and Daddy with the birthday girl.