Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Review is In :: Audrey Bunny by Angie Smith

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. - Psalm 139:14

Audrey Bunny is one of the most endearing children's storybooks of the year. Written by the engaging Angie Smith and illustrated by the talented Breezy Brookshire, Audrey Bunny, is a lovely story of imperfection and God's love.

Last week, upon a friend's recommendation, I purchased this beautiful book at our local Lifeway store. It sat on the table for two days before I finally had a chance to read it to my youngest son. Overall, he really enjoyed the story (as did I), even though he found it a bit sad at first.

The premise is simple. A little bunny is often overlooked in a toy store by children because she has an imperfection. However, one day, a little girl named Caroline visits the store on her birthday and chooses the imperfect bunny. She names her Audrey and their life together begins. Each day, Caroline plays and imagines with Audrey and Audrey tries her best to hide her imperfection in fear that she will no longer be loved by her Caroline lest it be discovered. One day, the little girl takes her bunny to school for Show and Tell. Audrey is dreadfully fearful she will be discovered and her life with Caroline will be over. Yet, to Audrey's surprise, Caroline always new about the imperfection and that was why she was chosen, - "I chose you, Audrey, and I love you more than you could ever know." 

In addition to a lovely story, the book includes a Parent Connection section which offers discussion questions for you and your child(ren). I found this story to be helpful to children in understanding we are all imperfect, but that we are all loved regardless of those imperfections. I highly recommend adding Audrey Bunny to your child(ren)'s library collection this Fall.

Here's a look at Audrey Bunny from the eyes of the author, Angie Smith.

Angie dedicates this beautiful story to her daughter, Audrey Caroline, whom she and her family lost at childbirth. For more on her testimonial Two and a Half Hours with Audrey, please visit this link.

Angie Smith is the wife of Todd Smith (lead singer of Dove Award winning group Selah), best-selling author of Mended, I Will Carry You, and What Women Fear, and one of the most popular speakers and blog writers in the country. She holds a Master’s degree in Developmental Psychology from Vanderbilt University and lives with her husband and daughters in Nashville, TN.

Breezy Brookshire is a 22 year old illustrator living in Indiana with her family. She has her own studio and blog, the Breezy Tulip Studio.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fall in the Kitchen :: Banana Nut and Pumpkin Spice Bread Recipes

This past weekend, Texas finally cooled off enough to bake Fall goodies for my boys. They adore my banana nut muffins and anything pumpkin, so I decided to try my hand at making mini-loaves of sweet and scrumptious bread. These recipes are also great for children to help in the kitchen and learn alongside Mom or Dad.

By the time I took a photo to share with you all, I only had a couple of slices left! I'm pleased my children enjoyed these easy and simple recipes and I hope your family does, as well.

Cream Cheese Banana Nut Bread 


3/4 C. butter, softened
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
2 C. sugar
2 large eggs
3 C. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 C. mashed bananas
1 C. chopped walnuts
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract


Using a Kitchen Aide mixer, beat butter and cream cheese at a medium speed until creamy. Gradually add sugar, continue beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating just until mixed.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; gradually add to the butter mixture, mixing at a low speed until blended. Mix in bananas, walnuts and vanilla.

Lightly coat your mini loaf pans with olive oil spray. Gently pour mixture into pans until about 2/3 of the way full. This recipe makes approximately 3 mini loaves.

Bake at 375 degrees for approximately 20 to 25 minutes or until wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean.

Pumpkin Spice Bread


1 box of Spice Cake mix
1 can of pumpkin or 12 oz. homemade pumpkin puree
1/2 C. water
3 eggs


Using a Kitchen Aide mixer, combine the spice cake mix, pumpkin, water and 3 eggs. Mix until well blended.

Lightly coat your mini loaf pans with olive oil spray. Gently pour mixture into pans until about 2/3 of the way full. This recipe makes approximately 2 mini loaves.

Bake at 375 degrees for approximately 20 to 25 minutes or until wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean.

In addition to making these sweet and savory breads for your family, consider making them this year as gifts for friends, family or neighbors. These may also be a great addition at pot lucks or bake sales.

What are your favorite homemade bread recipes for this time of year?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

In the Garden :: Pumpkins, Gourds and Squash, Oh My!

{Flashback Posting: I published this post last Fall, but wanted to share it again with you all. It has been updated to reflect new changes and includes information about the Ellis Garden Center's famous Pumpkin Glow.}

October is synonymous with pumpkins, gourds and squash. Throughout the month, they are used for décor, the main ingredient of seasonal dishes and as children’s whimsical canvas for spooky designs. However, did you know pumpkins and gourds, as well as squash, come in more shades of color than orange or yellow?

1. Red Warty Hubbard 2. Jack-O-Lantern 3. Jack-Be-Little 4. Apple 5. Sweet Pie 6. Cheddar 7. Turk’s Cap
With over 300 varieties of pumpkins, gourds, and squash grown annually, it is amazing to discern the color palette of nature: oranges, greens, yellows, blues, whites, striped, splotched, and spotted. Textures also vary greatly.

Due to the close familial orientation of the three, it can often be difficult to tell them apart. All are members of the Cucurbita family, with each variety belonging to a different sub-category. It seems the stem is the primary way to distinguish a pumpkin from the group. If the stem appears woody and hard, it can be deemed a pumpkin. A common adage for determining differences often insists, “A gourd is generally something you look at; a squash is something you eat; and you carve a pumpkin.” However, I personally admit to eating more pumpkins than I have ever carved; therefore, I recommend taking the above advice with a grain of salt.

When visiting your local garden center this season, stop by the pumpkin patch and see what types of pumpkins, squash, and gourds you can discover. Children enjoy seeing the many varieties available (to be honest, adults do too), especially the Fairy-tale and Cinderella pumpkins.

If you plan on creating your own pumpkin patch for next year, start planting seeds by mid-June to ensure harvesting by October as most varieties take between 80 to 125 days to mature. I would recommend creating dirt mounds about 10” to 12” in height to plant seeds. These mounds will allow for proper drainage and keep your seedlings from drowning. Pumpkins don’t require excess watering like watermelons; be sure to keep to normal watering requirements of most vegetables.
In this year’s garden, my young gardeners and I have planted three variations of the Cucurbita family: the Fairytale pumpkins, Amish pie pumpkins, and Birdhouse gourds. When we harvest our patch in late October or early November, we will use the gourds to create birdhouses and fairy homes, and decorate with the pumpkins.

How does your family incorporate the natural beauty and deliciousness of autumn’s bounty into your household?

{ Please note, these photos were taken at Ellis Garden Center in Longview, Texas. Ellis is famous for their yearly Pumpkin Glow and amazing pumpkin patches. They are also the home of our Junior Master Gardener gardens.}

Friday, October 4, 2013

Get Creative :: Make your own Paper Cone Wreaths

Paper cone wreaths were a traditional decorative centerpiece of the Victorian Era. Girls and women of all ages would create masterful papery pretties using a variety of papers from old books, sheet music or the like, as well as hand-made wreaths, paste and scissors.

A couple of weeks ago, I began constructing a paper cone wreath to be used as a decoration at a friend's baby shower and then later as useful nursery décor. Although not a difficult project, it was definitely time consuming. If you plan on creating your own, may I suggest starting early and working a little each day or have about 4 to 5 hours free when you begin.


A book - Any book will do, but make sure it has at least 100 pages, or if you are using several books, check to see if the papers are similar in color (if that sort of thing bothers you!).

An extra large (3 inch) paper punch. I used a scalloped punch, but you could also use a rounded punch.

About 6 to 10 sheets of color coordinating scrap book paper. You can use one-sided or double-sided. If you opt for one-sided, you can always combine two and create your own double-sided cones.

Ribbon - After you have your color scheme picked out, find a complementing ribbon. I used one that said All Girl with butterflies. It looked great!

Floral pins make life easy when attaching ribbon to the wreath. You definitely want to have a few of these on hand.

A 9 to 12 inch wreath. I used a 12 inch floral foam wreath. I prefer the smooth wreath to the rougher varieties, but any wreath will work. I've even seen individuals make their wreaths from newspapers.

A low-temp, hot glue gun and plenty of glue sticks. I used nearly a dozen on this project.


Step 1: Using your paper punch, cut out paper from the book and the scrapbook pages. This actually goes quickly and shouldn't take you a lot of time.

Step 2: Begin by covering (gluing) the wreath with the punch-outs from the book. You don't want to see any wreath! Be careful - even low-temp. glue is HOT!

Step 3: Create all the paper cones (reserve some plain paper punch-outs for Step 6). This is the most time consuming part of the entire project. As you gently bend the paper into a cone shape, make sure to "close" the tip as it creates a very nice looking cone. You can make skinny or wide cones for variety. Be sure to watch your fingers when you secure the cone edges together with the hot glue.

Step 4: Now that you've got all the cones made, begin placing and gluing them on the wreath randomly. I think the haphazardness of placement really makes this wreath shine. Make sure to cover any and all areas that will be visible when hanging with paper cones.

 Step 4.5: Before you finish the very top section of the wreath, take your ribbon and wrap it around the hanging pinnacle twice and secure with floral pins. You will cover the pins and ribbon with paper cones, leaving the section of ribbon for tying, free.

Step 5: Get creative! Go back over the cones you've randomly placed and insert extra cones into others to create a double cone effect. I had planned on creating a tiny banner displaying the baby's name across the middle of the wreath, but mom is still keeping it hush-hush!

Step 6: Using the remaining plain paper punch-outs, tidy up your gluing area by covering up large glue blobs or unsightliness. In addition, make sure to remove all the fine hot glue "spider webs" from your wreath, thus giving your wreath a polished look.

These adorable paper cone wreaths are not just for baby showers; in fact, I have plans to make one for Christmas this year and quite possibly the 4th of July. In addition, a quick search for paper cone wreath yields a plethora of different cone creations. The endless creativity and the wonderful use of paper truly makes this a fantastic project.

If you do make one, please share a picture of it with me. I'd love to see your creations!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Texas Travel :: Autumn in the Arboretum

This Autumn marks our third year back in Texas and we have barely begun to explore this amazing state with our boys. Earlier this week, we had the opportunity to visit the Dallas Arboretum. Filled to the brim with a variety of pumpkins and gourds, the arboretum was blooming with families, grins and giggles.

  Displaying a multitude of garden sensations, the arboretum included several children's exhibits featuring world explorers, Texas life and the famous Pumpkin Village composed of over 50,000 pumpkins, gourds and squash. 

In addition, the arboretum offered up a quiet place to sit, a lovely stroll and inspiration for future garden plans.

While we did not get a chance to visit the newly opened Rory Meyers Children's Adventure Garden, we will be returning later this Fall. The Adventure Garden is an 8 acre outdoor "museum without walls" featuring 17 educational galleries. Please note, this special garden requires advanced reservations.


To plan your family's visit to the Dallas Arboretum, please visit this link.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Autumn: The Season for Pumpkins, Corn Mazes and Falling Leaves

 Albert Camus once wrote, "Autumn is a second Spring, when every leaf is a flower." The vibrancy of the season conjures thoughts of pumpkins, spiced cider, boots with leggings and fireside chats with friends. It is the only time of year when we truly invite nature indoors and enjoy its bountiful harvest not just in produce, but also with its jeweled leaves, feisty cones and the like. Simply put, Autumn is my favorite time of year.

Over the next weeks, I'm going to begin our Autumn celebration through cooking, crafting, décor and more. Like Spring, I also prep for the coming Holiday season with a deep Fall cleaning.

Here's a past craft for toddlers and preschoolers I created for Dandelion Moms last Fall. I hope you have fun with this adorable owl handprint art! Please click on the photo to be redirected to the instructions.

I also wanted to share with all of you a cute Fall bucket list I found on Pinterest over the weekend! You definitely want to check off as many of these activities as possible!
Another family Fall favorite happens to be corn mazes! When our boys were younger, we had the opportunity to spend a season in Illinois and Wisconsin. The turning foliage was amazing, but it is the corn maze that still lingers in their memories best.

Please click on this link to visit a listing for corn mazes around the State of Texas! In addition, the Texas State Rail Road offers a corn maze in East Texas.Which ones has your family visited?