Monday, November 24, 2014

A Year in the Secret Garden - Tea Party, Book Review, and $100 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway!

We are still buzzing with excitement from this weekend. Our house was transformed Saturday afternoon into a dazzling venue for our Mid-Summer Indoor Garden Tea Party in November. 


No worries. I'll explain.

First, allow me introduce an amazing book:

A Year in the Secret Garden by Valarie Budayr & Marilyn Scott-Waters

I recieved a beautiful paperback copy for review, but otherwise I have recieved no compensation. All thoughts and opinions of the book are entirely my own.

Inspired by and written as sort of a companion and activity guide for The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, this book is divided into twelve month sections. Each month highlights traditional activities, recipes, life in that era, and a character study. It is a wonderful, hands on, practical way to take kids on a journey back in time and see how children and families lived in another era.

The illustrations are colorful and whimsical. The photographs are great visual aids to keep kids engaged. And the activities are fun with directions that are easy to follow.

About the Book

Title: A Year in the Life of the Secret Garden | Author: Valarie Budayr | Illustrator: Marilyn Scott-Waters | Publication Date: November, 2014 | Publisher: Audrey Press | Pages: 144 | Recommended Ages: 5 to 99 Book Description: Award-winning authors Valarie Budayr and Marilyn Scott-Waters have co-created A Year in the Secret Garden to introduce the beloved children’s classic, The Secret Garden to a new generation of families. This guide uses over two hundred full color illustrations and photos to bring the magical story to life, with fascinating historical information, monthly gardening activities, easy-to-make recipes, and step-by-step crafts, designed to enchant readers of all ages. Each month your family will unlock the mysteries of a Secret Garden character, as well as have fun together creating the original crafts and activities based on the book.Over 140 pages, with 200 original color illustrations and 48 activities for your family and friends to enjoy, learn, discover and play with together. A Year In the Secret Garden is our opportunity to introduce new generations of families to the magic of this classic tale in a modern and innovative way that creates special learning and play times outside in nature. This book encourages families to step away from technology and into the kitchen, garden, reading nook and craft room.

Amazon * Audrey Press * Goodreads


About the Author: Valarie Budayr

Valarie Budayr

Valarie Budayr loves reading and bringing books alive. Her popular website,, inspires children and adults alike to experience their books through play, discovery, and adventure. She is founder of Audrey Press, an independent publishing house, as well as an Amazon and iTunes best-selling author. She has written The Fox Diaries: The Year the Foxes Came to our Garden and The Ultimate Guide to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Valarie is passionate about making kid’s books come alive and encouraging families and schools to pull books off the shelves and stories off the pages.  

Book Website | Blog | Twitter | Facebook

Pinterest | Google+ | Goodreads


About the Illustrator: Marilyn Scott-Waters

Marilyn Scott-Waters

Marilyn Scott-Waters loves making things out of paper. Her popular website,, receives 2,000 to 7,000 visitors each day, who have downloaded more than six million of her easy-to-make paper toys. Her goal is to help parents and children spend time together making things. She is the creator of a paper toy craft book series The Toymakers Christmas: Paper Toys You Can Make Yourself (Sterling), and The Toymakers Workshop: Paper Toys You Can Make Yourself (Sterling). She is also the co-creator with J. H. Everett of the middle grade nonfiction series, Haunted Histories, (Christy Ottaviano Books / Henry Holt Books for Young Readers). Ms. Scott-Waters illustrated The Search For Vile Things (Scholastic), and created paper engineering for Pop & Sniff Fruit (Piggy Toes Press).

Website | Facebook | Google+


As part of the Blog Tour, I was assigned the month of June. Which meant we got to organize a Tea Party!!

It has been something Grace has been wanting to do for several months now, so it was the perfect activity. 

The hardest part was pinning down a date. Between my schedule, and those of several we wanted to invite, and the cold spells that nipped through, it was a challenge. But we finally were able to pin down Sat. Nov. 22. Cutting it close to my deadline, for sure, but was the date that best worked. 

I had a perfect pavilion picked out, with several beautiful live oak trees near by and bushes that house several species of birds year round, at which to host our Garden Tea Party. Then came the weather forecast. As the day drew closer the rain and thunderstorm chances just kept increasing. Sigh...

By Wednesday I decided to stop hoping for clear weather and just planned to do the party at the house. 

Grace and I did our shopping on Wednesday. To help get the house ready, my sister offered to take Kit off my hands for the two nights preceding party day. I gratefully accepted! 

So Thursday afternoon, Grace and I put together the Goodie Boxes and bags. 

Since we invaded the boys by having our party at the house we made goodie boxes  for them too! They got scented stickers and the girls got Sunflower seeds. Grace picked out the color of paper for each guest and I folded them into envelopes.

The mamas (and grandmas and aunties) got a little Pampering Package.

Friday morning was cleaning (otherwise known as hide all the big mess in Mom and Dad's room and quickly wipe down everything else), and Friday afternoon was cooking!

One of my BFFs had offered to make the Lemon Cookies, one of the recipes from the book, and they turned out perfectly! Not only were they beautiful, but they were so delicious! Really soft and moist.


I supervised while Grace made a recipe (not from this book) she has had her heart set on since I told her we were going to have the party. She did all the work, I only answered questions and helped with the mixing a tiny bit at the end. She made two, heavenly delicious Mud Pies.

Everybody really liked it, but her Daddy could not get enough of this, nor could one of the other moms, who ended up taking the recipe home with her, she loved it that much. I'll be posting the recipe in a post later this week, so check back in a couple days!

Grace and I also made some Jelly Tarts. They came out very pretty, but the shells ended up being over-kneaded pie dough instead of short bread. Let's just say it was good we had tea to soak them in to soften the crusts a bit! They were fun to make though, and fit the setting perfectly.

After the kids were in bed, I settled in at the kitchen table to make another recipe from the book, Ladybug Sandwiches!

I took a few short cuts with the recipe, though. For example I found it easier to poke the knife into the tomato and twist a hole, rather than trying to cut out tiny pieces. And instead of cutting all the way through to separate the "wings", I just slit a straight cut down the middle, leaving the front and back in tact, but giving the visual of a separation between the wings. It made the process much faster! Especially, since I had to make sixty little lady bugs!  

I placed them two to a leaf on wax paper on a cookie sheet, and refrigerated them overnight. The next day we Sliced the bread, spread the cream cheese spread (I also tweaked this!), and then transferred the leaves with the ladybugs on them onto the slices. I knew I would have a million things to do Saturday morning, so I didn't want to be stressed when trying to make the ladybugs. Making them the night before was perfect. And they were a huge hit! My twelve year old son cooed over them the way he does when he sees a puppy, "They are so cute! They are just adorable!" That felt pretty awesome.

Since it was supposed to be a Garden Tea Party, there had to be flowers! So I asked a friend and one of my sisters to both bring some, which they did. And I found some great discounted bouquets at Kroger Friday night, so we did a great job of bringing the Garden indoors!

A few friends showed up early to help us get ready, and they were life savers!! They were amazing sou chefs, helped wash the dishes, arrange flowers, set the tables! But best of all they kept me sane! I didn't have to do it all myself, so I am so grateful!

I finally got to use the tea set that came with the china set from my Grandparents! It is so pretty, and it was absolutely the perfect occasion!

Then more friends arrived! With more food! We had an amazing spread, onion pies, salad stuffed jumbo shells, cupcakes, veggie rolls, veggie dippers with hummus, salmon dip, cheddar and pimento spread, sugar cookies, Cajun cookies, lemon cookies, ladybug sandwiches, apple dippers. and of course...tea!

I brewed up a peach and wild berry tea and mixed in sugar and frozen berries. It was quite delicious! I also made a vanilla chamomile blend, and a blueberry tea. But the peach and wild berry was definitely the tastiest. Most of the girls tried at least one, even the boys enjoyed it! A few of the girls decided they were happiest with plain milk. I'm sure there were plenty of girls back in Mary and Colin's time who preferred good fresh milk over tea as well!

So our tea party was a smashing success! We had a grand total of 11 girls, 4 boys (they mostly played outside and popped in and out for food :), 10 ladies, one Daddy (thank you to our table fixer, taxi, and official Mud Pie taster,Victor!), and one Grandpa! We really had a blast and it was a really fun and memorable day.

Oh, and guess what, it didn't rain all day! Just a few tiny sprinkles at the very end of the evening. (Though it did pour in the middle of the night, but still, forecasts, hmph!)

Even Kitty Bitty enjoyed a spot of tea!

And I am looking forward to doing so much more out of this wonderful book. Though I think we are going to start now with the corresponding month that we are actually in! 

This is a great book for any family with kids. As a homeschooling family though, a book like this is golden! Such amazing ways to get kids excited about literature, history, even geography! I honestly haven't found a single thing about it I don't like. Even the pages are thick, glossy and durable, also known as kid resistant and life ready! 

I encourage every family to add this to their home library. And to have a real, full blown, English Garden Tea Party (indoors or out!) at least once, but more if at all possible!! I know we will.

If you want to learn even more about the book, or see what other bloggers have to say, please go visit them by clicking on the links below! And thank you for joining us for our tea party, I hope you feel as inspired as I do! And don't forget to scroll down and enter the giveaway for a $100 Amazon Gift Card!!

A Year in the Secret Garden Blog Tour Schedule (2014)

November 1
Coffee Books & Art (Guest Post)
WS Momma Readers Nook (Book Review)
November 2
Cherry Mischievous (Excerpt)
Hope to Read (Excerpt)
November 3
Eloquent Articulation (Book Review)
Enter Here Canada (Excerpt)
November 4
BeachBoundBooks (Excerpt)
Books, Babies and Bows (Book Review)
November 5
Monique's Musings (Book Review)
November 6
SOS-Supply (Book Review)
November 7
Randomly Reading (Book Review)
November 8
Adalinc to Life (Book Review)
November 9
100 Pages a Day (Book Review)
November 10
Edventures With Kids (Book Review)
November 11
November 12
Girl of 1000 Wonders (Book Review)
November 13
Seraphina Reads (Guest Post)
November 14
Juggling Act Mama (Book Review)
November 15
Pragmatic Mom (Author/Illustrator Interview)
November 16
Stacking Books (Book Review)
November 17
Oh My Bookness (Book Review)
November 18
Crystal's Tiny Treasures (Book Review)
November 19
The Blended Blog (Book Review)
November 20
All Done Monkey (Book Review)
November 21
Geo Librarian (Book Review)
Grandbooking (Author/Illustrator Interview)
November 22
November 23
Christy's Cozy Corners (Book Review)
November 24
Bookaholic Chick (Excerpt)
Hide-N-(Sensory)-Seeking (Book Review)
November 25
Ninja Librarian (Guest Post)
November 26
Jane Ritz (Book Review)
Rockin' Book Reviews (Book Review)
November 27
November 28
Deal Sharing Aunt (Book Review)
November 29
Mommynificent (Book Review)
November 30
This Kid Reviews Books (Book Review)
Java John Z's (Author/Illustrator Interview)

* $100 Blog Tour Giveaway *

Amazon 100 gift card 

Prize: $100 Amazon Gift Card or PayPal cash (winner’s choice) Contest ends: December 7, 11:59 pm, 2014 Open: Internationally How to enter: Please enter using the Rafflecopter widget below. Terms and Conditions: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. A winner will be randomly drawn through the Rafflecopter widget and will be contacted by email within 48 hours after the giveaway ends. The winner will then have 72 hours to respond. If the winner does not respond within 72 hours, a new draw will take place for a new winner. Odds of winning will vary depending on the number of eligible entries received. This contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Facebook. This giveaway is sponsored by the authors Valarie Budayr and Marilyn Scott-Waters and is hosted and managed by Renee from Mother Daughter Book Reviews. If you have any additional questions – feel free to send and email to Renee(at)MotherDaughterBookReviews(dot)com.

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A Year in the Secret Garden - Blog Tour Button

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fresh Brewed Week 3: When to Say Tech-No!

Welcome to Fresh Brewed! Each week I will write about a topic that relates to families. Then, at the bottom of the post is a Linky Tool so that you can link up your posts related to the topic for the week. It doesn't have to be a new post from the past week, if you have written about it in a previous post, link it! The topics will be broad enough to encompass many avenues of thought, but do please only post related posts. Opinion posts are welcome, but not bashing ones please. Please keep it respectful. There may be posts with vastly different viewpoints, or addressing points on vastly different areas of the topic. That's fantastic as every family is different and struggles with different circumstances. If you are not a blogger, but you have an interesting article to share, or read something another blogger posted, please feel free to leave a link in the comments section of the weekly post and a short description of how it relates to the topic. 

Fresh Brewed Weekly Link-Up Guidelines

1. Please link only the URL to your direct post, not to your blog homepage. The Link-Up will be open from Thursdays 5am - Mondays until 11:55 pm.

2. Like the Link-Up? Please follow me, either here on the blog or on Twitter!

3. I love love love comments! And so does every other blogger I know. Please take just a few minutes to check out at least the link before yours and share in their discussion by way of a comment!

4. Link-up or general giveaway posts are welcome so long as they are topic relative. If you have reviewed a product relevant to the topic for the week, by all means, please share. But, please, posts on topic only. 

5. Spread the word! Share with your followers, and let your friends know! Grab my button!


Week 3 Topic: Technology's Impact on Family Connections

So this article about cars that are their own WIFI hotspots really got me thinking.

At first I thought, that's pretty cool, it's probably going to be a big hit.

Then I thought, whoa...that could be really dangerous. There are already so many people making risky choices while they drive, I  have a hard time seeing how this is going to lower those statistics. And lead to further disconnection between family members.

Then I asked Victor what her thought about it. He said he thinks it's a good strategy for auto makers, and he thinks it's a good idea. Then he started to guesstimate costs and whether or not that would allow mobile users to save money on their cell phone bills. Ultimately he didn't have enough info to draw a solid conclusion.

Cost, however, looks very different to me in this instance and in most areas involving technology. The dollar figure is not my only bottom line when I am considering investing in it. The impact it will have on our family is my main concern.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE technology. Especially air conditioning, living here in the South. But I am also keenly aware of how stealthily technology can weave into our lives until we are so dependent on it that we loose touch with each other. And that is something our family really hopes to avoid.

We are as susceptible as anyone else though. And we've had ups and downs where technology is concerned, especially in the realm of entertainment.

Victor and I love movies and tv shows. So do our kids. In fact, if we didn't strictly regulate ourselves, that is pretty much all we would do. But we don't have the self-discipline to simply not watch too much. We have to have more stringent and concrete measures in place.

Our solution? We do not have cable. We do not have Netflix. We do not even have an antenna to catch the local channels. But we still have plenty to watch. We rent, and borrow movies and TV series from the library, and we can request just about anything that has been put on DVD. We own a large number of movies as well. Mostly kid movies, but plenty of Victor and my favorites too. We recently did invest in a Roku. This was not without much discussion and weighing of pros and cons. It was decided ahead of time which channels we would have, and then we set a code that we have to enter in order to add any further channels. It can be done, but it is a bit of a nuisance, thus making us pause and think before proceeding. This has worked out really well so far. These restrictions better enable us to turn off the tv when a movie or show is finished, manage our time better, and keep us open to doing things together and encouraging us to engage our minds in more stimulating and beneficial activities.

I am not suggesting that every family operate within such strict confines when it comes to tv viewing. In fact many families can be much more lax in that department and it works well for them. I'm just sharing what has worked for our circumstances and tendencies.

Another area that sometimes feels like it could consume us is non-tv screen time. We have a Wii, a tablet, several variations of Gameboy and Nintendo DS, several phones, and a laptop. We really enjoy these. But again, sometimes we find ourselves too wrapped up in them. And the lines are harder to draw on how much is too much.

For example, Zak is getting really into animation. He could spend hours on the laptop in his animation program. Is that a bad thing? I'm not sure. It may not look like much, but when I sat down with him and he took me step by step through the process, I was amazed at how much patience it required of him, moving his characters in small increments in frame after frame to create a finished piece. One of his videos only runs about 30 seconds, but it is made up of over 365 individual frames, and in one part he had to manipulate a cast of of over a dozen characters, adjusting them with over 108 different movement joints. On top of that, he is creating stories, characters with personalities, plot, intrigue, irony, action, twists, and humor. And this is all with extremely basic animation software involving primarily stick figures. These are not useless skills considering the technology infused world he is growing toward adulthood in. It's hard to know how best to regulate this type of learning/playing with technology.

Another example is letting our three year old play on the tablet. Like most kids her age, she loves playing with technology. Unlike most kids her age, technology has played an impactful roll in her ability to learn to communicate and connect with others. When, due to autism, her speech disappeared at 16 months, we used technology by way of Signing Time videos and many words looked up online to teach her American Sign Language. She became proficient at using over three hundred signs, even spontaneously combining them to make requests, statements, or tell stories. I am eternally grateful that we had this technology available to enable us to help her communicate and lessen the stress of what was already our most challenging period as a family.

It also helped foster bonds with other family members. She used to take a very long time to warm up to Nana when she came over to visit, but when Nana started bringing her tablet with her, Kit would run up to her, look in Nana's bag, look up a Nana and sign "please". Then they would snuggle in together to watch Caleb and Sofia, the snuggling thing being something that Kit often had difficulty with, but not so much when she could focus her attention on the tablet. Similar bonds were formed with other friends and family members using technology to help promote her joint attention skills and becoming ok with being held, hugged and other expressions of affection.

Her speech has come back, much to our delight, but she still uses the tablet to help her find calm when she is overtired or overwhelmed, and to help solidify concepts that used to be difficult for her to understand. Only in the last month have I observed her be able to play with her real world toys spontaneously (as opposed to only playing the same script with them over and over) and more often, instead of ultimately preferring to watch YouTube toy reviews over real life play. But allowing her to watch more than the 30 min recommended amount of screen time for her age, she was able to take in those videos, imitate them at first, but then gradually build her understanding and base to be able to draw play scenarios from and eventually be able to combine them and then even come up with original play. As she has become more skilled in real world interactions, she has spontaneously reduced the amount of time she wants to spend on the tablet.

My kids can easily spend an hour and a half every day, playing Just Dance on the Wii, sometimes longer. I am reluctant to tell them to turn it off when they are so engaged. They are exerting themselves in full body physical activity when they do this. I am ecstatic that they are exercising and loving it! I'm much quicker to enforce a time limit on say, Mario Cart, where they tend to do a lot of sitting, even though their brain is busy.

Victor and I held out for years before adding texting to our phone plan, until there was basically no other option that was cheaper. But we are not anti-text. We texted regularly through a free data app. Some of our most productive conversations have taken place through texting as sometimes that is the only way we can speak to each other without constant interruptions from life. Even though the conversation may take place over a longer period of time, being able to fully form a thought and then send it, where the other person can read it, think about a response and then reply is a helpful tool. And I am positive that as my kids reach the teen years, the more relaxed nature of not having to have every conversation be face to face might foster freer and more frequent conversations. We shall see sooner than I'm ready, I'm sure.

Clearly, technology is not all good nor all bad. It can serve some very useful purposes, and has contributed to huge amounts of information being available at the click of a button or a tap on the screen. To me personally, I think it's really important to keep a finger on the technology pulse of my family. This way if we seem to be veering away from our goals for connection, we can fairly easily make course corrections. Especially since new gadgets and uses for them are constantly being dangled before us. This is something each family needs to carefully weigh.

How do I feel about my car being WIFI equipped? I'm not interested. For the time being, I see it as something that would cause more distance between us and the kids, rather than being useful. Not that it matters much anyhow, we are plenty satisfied with our current wheels and will be rolling happily along for a number of years to come. Without WIFI, On-Star, XM Radio, or DVD players! I'm good though, it's got air conditioning after all.