bee turns five

Bee had several ideas for her birthday party this year, but we decided on a pink pajama party. Bee's birthday is a little before Valentine's day, so hearts were the perfect motif. Invites were simple cards with a sewn on heart slipped into envelopes we made following this tutorial. Bee personally delivered them to all her friends (these envelopes are awfully cute, but I wouldn't try to mail them!).

We blew up a ton of balloons to throw around the house, which is much easier if your husband takes over and blows them up with his air compressor. I usually get a dozen or so helium balloons for a party, but you can about 5 dozen unfilled balloons for the same price, and when it comes to balloons... I say the more, the merrier.

Our party started at 9 AM, and we asked the kids to come in their pajamas (and bring their pillows with them). The kids seemed to get a kick out of showing up in their pjs, and they looked awfully cute all together. Bee requested a number shirt like I always make C for his birthday, so I freezer paper stenciled a 5 in a heart. One benefit of an early party is that it forces you to have everything ready the night before, there's no time to rush around and finish things in the morning, which is great if you are a procrastinator like myself. 

When the kids first arrived we sat at the table and made valentine's... kind of like a kid version of Martha's crafternoon. We had punches and crayons and paper and stickers and the kids did a great job all on their own (I thought it was sweet that most of the kids chose to make cards for their moms).

We spread blankets out and had the kids lie down on their pillows while we read a few of Bee's favorite picture books... JR makes a very convincing pigeon.

During the stories, I took one girl at a time and painted their nails. Bee is a nail biter and I have NEVER let her paint her nails... I said that would be her reward if she could stop biting her nails. A few weeks before the party she showed me her hand so I could see that she had stopped, and much to Bee's delight, we got to paint fingernails at the party!

We used some old pillowcases for sack races in the backyard. We did several heats since the kids were much faster than I thought! We also played "musical pillows", which is just like musical chairs except you jump on a pillow when the music stops.

One game that we made up on the spot was the pillow long jump, seeing how far each child could jump in one jump.. and if they fall, they land on a bunch of pillows! We also played pin the heart on Bee (instead of pin the tail on the donkey).

We kept the food simple: little pink pancakes with strawberry jam and whipped cream, fruit skewers, and orange juice. (It gets busy trying to serve nine five year olds pancakes all at the same time, so forgive me for not having a photo!) I think pancakes are the perfect kid party food.. they all love pancakes and it's nice to be able to make one thing instead of sandwiches where I feel I need to make three varieties to make everyone happy.

We had blueberry muffins for "dessert" so Bee could blow her candles out, it just seemed a little early to be giving kids cake! All in all, a really fun party.. and one of the easier parties we've done in terms of planning. Happy birthday little Bee..


valentines 2011

My little boy is now 6, and he wants to be involved in the creation of his valentines. C is a pretty creative kid, and loves to draw, so we decided to make a little portrait of each of his classmates in first grade. It took a little time, so we spread it out over a few days.

I was inspired by this spread in our Doodles book (a coloring book I highly recommend). I showed it to C and pointed out all the different hairstyles and clothes and facial expressions and how each person is unique. With the help of C's class photo, he was off and running. 

I drew a little template, with a head and shoulders drawn in, and a frame where he could write each child's name. This helped make all the portraits roughly the same size, and gave him a starting point for each drawing. Our valentine's fold in half with a little spine (that says Happy Valentine's Day 2011) and then C wrote on the back "A Portrait by C..". I've made a PDF that you can use, which fits four valentines to a page, just fold and cut to make your own. We're stapling a little bag of treats inside, because my kids know a valentine is only worth it's weight if it involves a little candy.

I love how they turned out. And I can honestly say the C loved making them. He spent so much time making sure each picture looked just like the person he was drawing.. copying their shirts and hairbows and smiles as best he could. He's so proud to pass them out to his friends, but I am a little sad we have to give them all away!


homemade valentines recap

We are in the midst of making some very cute valentines. But they are not quite finished.. hopefully I can share them in the next few days. I realize time is short if your children are passing valentines out at school, so here are a few ideas (some new, some not so new).

We celebrated Bee's birthday last week and made these little notepads for the goodie bags. All kids love a little notebook of their very own, especially one with their name on it. These small notepads are easy to find in the office supply section, they usually come in packs of three. Print out some labels to cover the front, and these notepads are suddenly so much sweeter! (I always have a pack of full sheet sticker labels around the office.. you can feed them through most inkjet printers just like regular paper.)

I've made an editable PDF if you'd like to make some of these notepads yourself. The font won't match the one I used, since editable PDFs need to use fonts that everyone has on their computer (like Helvetica). But you can type in any name you like and print away. Trim them out after printing and peel off the adhesive backing, then carefully place your sticker on the front of your notepad (take your time, lining it up perfectly takes a little practice). These fit perfectly on Mead notepads, that's just what they had at my store, I can't vouch for other brands.. but I assume they are all pretty close. (Note: Make sure you print these at 100%, sometimes Acrobat will automatically scale your artwork to fit the page, so check your settings!)

I've also made a PDF for the valentine's we made last year. It's sometimes hard to think of a valentine where the kids can be involved, especially if they need to make 30! Print the PDF onto cardstock, cut it in half (each page makes two valentines), and let your kids draw on the arms, legs, and eyes... and then sign their name. You can attach one or two pieces of candy to the little man's arms.

I made these ABC cards for Design Sponge last year, and I think they would make a very thoughtful gift for your valentine. We have a birthday tradition in our family we’ve been doing since we were kids. We go around the dinner table and each person takes a letter of the alphabet, and we say something nice about the birthday girl/boy. A is for Artistic! B is for the Beautiful! We go around and around the table until we get to Z (which can be a difficult letter, you have to get creative). You can mention a favorite memory, or something that reminds you of that person, but it has to involve your letter. You can download the file over at Design Sponge, it prints 4 cards to a page.

And don't forget tiny matchbox valentines... inexpensive and awfully cute, especially when you involve your kids by having them write the nametags or draw little pictures of each classmate.


my favorite cookbooks

I buy cookbooks.. a lot. Sometimes I wonder why I buy so many, especially now that you can download more recipes off the internet than you could ever actually make in a lifetime. Perhaps it's because I design books for a living, so I get suckered in by a pretty title page or a really great cover. Despite the plethora of cookbooks that gather dust on my shelf, here are the five cookbooks I reach for the most:

Everyday Food: Great Food Fast  From the kitchens of Martha Stewart Living
Everyday Food, the magazine, launched while I was working at Martha Stewart Living and so all the employees got free issues each month. You can see from my early issues, above, how well-loved they are. Post-its flag the recipes I use most often so I can easily go back and find them. Great Food Fast is a nice collection of some of the best Everyday Food recipes, organized by season. These aren't mind blowing recipes, but they work great for casual dinners at home. (And I should mention that I think the recipes from the early years of EDF are better than the later years..)

Time for Dinner   By Cookie editors Pilar Guzman, Jenny Rosenstarch, and Alanna Stang
If you aren't reading the blog Dinner: A Love Story, written by Jenny Rosenstarch, you really need to be. She's got a great handle on family dinners, especially when it comes to the little people in your life. And she's funny. (I'm still laughing about the memo she wrote to her husband about packing school lunches.) Time for Dinner is a great collection of recipes, but my favorite part is the "I want to use what I already have" chapter which shows recipes that use common ingredients you probably have sitting in your fridge (or need to use before they go bad). And I love the Strategic Sunday Dinner section, a great way to make one big meal on the weekend and use the leftovers for a meal or two throughout the week.

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day  By Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois
This book has gotten considerable attention in the blogosphere (and for good reason). My copy automatically flips open to The Master Recipe on page 26, which I make every few weeks. The dough is ridiculously easy to whip up, you throw it in a big tupperare container, then let it rise, then store it in your fridge and grab some dough whenever you want fresh bread for dinner that night. (You just need to remember to take the dough out of the fridge about an hour and a half before dinner... shape your loaf, let it rise and then bake.) The Master Recipe makes 4 small round loaves, and my family of four can easily eat a whole loaf in one sitting. The dough stays good in the fridge for just shy of two weeks, so I usually make 2 loaves at a time, people don't seem to complain when you hand them a loaf of homemade bread fresh from the oven.

How to Cook Everything  By Mark Bittman
I've been a fan of Bittman's Minimalist column in The New York Times for years. Simple recipes, delicious results. He proves that cooking doesn't need to be overly complicated to be good. How To Cook Everything is kind of like my cooking bible. I pull it out for any question I might have, like "What do I do with this kale?" or "I need a different way to cook shrimp" or "What's the best way to roast these tomatoes?". I like to think of him as that really smart friend you often call upon for advice. In fact the motto for my kitchen is often WWBT: What Would Bittman Do?

The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook  By Ina Garten
I did a few photoshoots with Ina back when we ran her entertaining column in Martha Stewart Living. It was always nice to get out of the city and spend the day in East Hampton. I quickly became a fan of her cookbooks, and own most of them, but this is the one I pick up most often. Ina's recipes just seem to work for me. They turn out just like I expect them to.. and really, what more do you want from a recipe? My favorites are: Grilled Lemon Chicken with Satay Dip (pg. 48), Sun-Dried Tomato Dip (pg. 54), Turkey Tea Sandwiches (pg. 58), Cheddar Corn Chowder (pg. 74), French Potato Salad (pg. 96), and the Fresh Corn Salad (pg. 101). Oh, and don't forget the Coconut Cupcakes (pg. 175).

The Best Recipe  By the editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine
I was given this book for a wedding present by one of the food editors at work, which is about as good an endorsement a cookbook can receive in my world. It looks like this edition is no longer in print, they've upgraded to The NEW Best Recipe which includes even more recipes, so you'll still be in good shape. Here's what the folks at America's Test Kitchen do best, taking a recipe for something like Strawberry Shortcake and then dissecting every part of it. They try it with baking powder vs. baking soda, they add a little buttermilk or heavy cream, they test the recipe with four different kinds of flour.. and in the end they end up with a recipe they consider "the best". The recipes can be a little time-consuming, and sometimes the ingredients seem a little fussy, but the end result never lets me down. (I've also heard good things about The Best 30-Minute Recipe but have yet to try it.. perhaps my next cookbook purchase?)

A little tip for those of you just starting to cook: I write all over my cookbooks, marking in the margins the date I try the recipe along with notes like "Delicious! Try with more thyme." or "Next time add a little more sugar." It helps me remember the little changes I want to try next time I make that recipe. You can tell the recipes I really love because they are covered in notes: ingredients have been slightly altered, measurements changed, and there are little notes next to each step.

I'd love to hear about the cookbooks you use most often, the ones that are spattered with tomato sauce and have wrinkly pages... you know the ones I mean.


the grocery list


I thought I'd spend a little time this week talking about food (a topic I usually leave to the food blogs). Particularly how to feed your family. I've realized over the years that I much prefer having a solid plan of action rather than opening the fridge at 5 PM trying to rustle up some dinner.

You can read about my approach to meal planning over on Design Mom today. You can even download my grocery list. It's a simple system that really works for me. You plan four meals a week, Monday through Thursday. (Friday is date night, and Saturdays we eat pizza during Movie Night.. Sundays are usually dinner with my extended family or friends and require their own shopping if we're hosting.) Because I buy different things at different stores, I have sections for 4 stores on my grocery list. The biggest section is our main grocery store (where we buy most of our packaged foods and cleaning items) and the other sections are Trader Joe's (we love their milk, their premade pizza dough and their healthy snacks), Costco (for fruit and some types of meat), and Henry's (where we buy most of our produce). If you frequent different stores, you can download this editable grocery list and type in the names of the stores you shop at.

We'll start with my approach to meal planning and later this week we'll talk about my favorite cookbooks (you can see a few in the pile above). And I'd love to hear about the things that work for you. How do you approach meal planning? How do you manage to eat dinner as a family despite busy schedules? Any tips for getting my 5 year old to start eating everything on her plate?


ballet bag

When we showed up for Bees first ballet class last year, each little girl proudly carried in her tap shoes and ballet shoes in little bags. Most of these bags were pink satin (no surprise) and most involved bright pink sparkles and fur trim. I am still easing my way into the world of little girls and their love for pink and sparkly, so I told Bee we would make a bag.. and though it wouldn't be bedazzled in hot pink glitter, it would still be cool.

We used the Drawstring Travel Bag pattern from Heather Ross' book Weekend Sewing, which has cute boxed corners. For the R, I followed the applique techniques Heather uses on another project in the book, the Patchwork Trimmed Baby Blanket. (Be warned that some letters are trickier than others, you're in luck if you named your child Lily!)

Since Bee goes to ballet class with her cousin, we made one for her as well. I love seeing these two cute girls march into class each week with their matching bags.

The ballet bag works really well for us. The shoes go right back inside after class and the bag lives in Bee's bottom drawer, alongside her tights and leotard, so when it's time for class everything is in one place.

I love watching these girls dance in their black leotards. Their class is getting more serious now, with lots of barre work. (Bee sometimes asks her dad to write an R on one hand and an L on the other so she can remember her right and left.) Ballet is so beautiful, even performed by 5 year olds... And don't get me started on the tap dancing.. ridiculously cute!


christmas gender reveal

My little brother and his family were visiting for Christmas, and they are expecting their third child. As we opened up our gifts Christmas morning, he pulled one special gift from the pile and called the family to attention.

My sister-in-law had had an ultrasound earlier that week, and they didn't know what they were having. They asked the ultrasound technician to write on a piece of paper if it was a boy or a girl, and then they went to a clothing store and picked out a boy outfit and a girl outfit. They gave the note from the ultrasound visit to the clerk at the store and said they wanted to buy either the blue boy outfit or the pink girl outfit depending on what the note said. The clerk wrapped it in a box so they couldn't see which outfit they had purchased.

They wrapped the box and opened it with us on Christmas morning, so we could all find out at the same time that they are having.. a little girl!

It was so fun to see the reactions of my brother and his wife, my parents, my kids, and my niece and nephew as they all found out. By far the most exciting gift we opened Christmas morning and one of the most creative gender reveals I've seen.


a healthy start to the new year

Most New Years resolutions include something about health.. but I often lose my focus after a few weeks. I get busy and forget that I was trying not to eat sugar, or that I promised I would work out more. This year I'm trying something new.. thanks to my dad.

My dad has been avidly studying nutrition the past few years. He's read over 100 books on the subject, scours the web everyday for interesting articles, and has even started reading medical journals (just for fun!). I live nearby, so alot of our conversations start out "I was just reading this great book.." or "Did you see that cheese article in the NY Times?"

He's taught me a lot, and I've been encouraging him to start his own blog for quite some time to share his wealth of knowledge. It's now up and running and it's called Word of Wisdom Living.

Last week started one year of "Healthy Changes", one thing you can change in your diet or lifestyle each week. He'll post one each Monday for the rest of the year. The first Healthy Change is about drinking soda, and you can read it here. This week's change has to do with fried foods. You can even download a little sign each week to help remind you.

The blog is a family affair. I'll be helping him along, suggesting topics and doing the design work. My little sister does the photography. My mom acts as editor and cheerleader. There will be recipes (like this one for a healthy breakfast) and book reviews, links to nutrition blogs and interesting news articles.. lots of little ways to make your family healthier, one step at a time.

I know I'm biased, but my dad is a really smart guy.. and I think we could all learn a lot from him. Here's to a happy (and healthy) 2011!


the name game

Now that we have young children, New Year's Eve has become a night of marathon game playing. Kids play Monopoly and Candyland with their grandparents and cousins. Adults play a card game we call Blackout and maybe a round of Carcassonne or Ticket to Ride.

It also happens to be my sister's birthday so we usually spend it together, ringing in the New Year and singing Happy Birthday simultaneously. Looking for a fun game to play tonight while you wait for the clock to strike twelve? Try the Name Game. I'm sure this game goes by many other names, but this is what my friends and I always called it. It's great for groups of about 6 to 12 adults, and requires nothing more than paper and pens.

Cut some paper up into little strips (you'll need a decent amount). Each person grabs a handful of paper strips and a pen and writes one name on each. Names can include celebrities, historical figures, people you all happen to know, fictional characters, etc. As you can see from the sampling above we like to include a wide range of interests, and it's best to try and think of names that are well known but a little obscure. Remember that both teams will be using the names, so if you make it TOO obscure like John Tyler (our 10th U.S. president) you'll be hurting when you pull that name yourself.

All the names are folded in half once and put in a large bowl (the folding is important since you don't want people to see other names). Divide your people into two teams, alternating turns between the teams. Each person takes a turn. Reach into the bowl and pull out a name, then try and get your team to guess who it is. There aren't a lot of rules about what you can and can't do. Obviously you can't say the person's name, and you can't do any "rhymes with" tricks.. but you can list movies they've been in, or sing the theme song for their show, or name the books they wrote.

For example, if you pulled out Wes Anderson, you'd say "He's the director who's really skinny and he did Royal Tenanbaums and Rushmore.. and they always star Bill Murray and the Owens brothers!" Your team tries to guess as quickly as they can. The turns are timed (1 to 2 minutes) and you win by scoring the most points for your team. If you get stuck on a name, you can throw it back in the bowl and choose another, but you lose a point. The team with the most points at the end of the bowl wins.


new year's eve

Once upon a time New Year's Eve was the most anticipated night of my social calendar. I was young and single and living in New York City and had friends who lived right in the heart of Times Square. Living on 43rd Street left you fighting with tourists all year long, but come December 31st, it was the best location in town.

Our friends held a party each year, with way too many people jammed into a way too small apartment. One million people come to Times Square each New Year's Eve, and it was always tricky fighting your way through the snow and the barricades and the crowds to get to the party (in heels, no less!). We found that carrying your invitation with you helped, so you could hold it up to a kind policeman and beg to be allowed to cross Broadway.

A little before midnight we'd all head up the stairs to the rooftop of the building, where the ball loomed bright and beautiful across the street, and count down the new year along with the huge crowd gathered below. It was loud, and crazy, and when the confetti exploded.. downright magical.

Photo from The New York Times via The Craft Dept.