wee wonderfuls: the book

Wee Wonderfuls was one of the first crafty blogs I discovered, so I have long been a fan of Hillary Lang and her handsewn toys. The folks over at STC Craft, also the publisher of many of the books I design, asked me to be part of the blog tour for Hillary's new book, Wee Wonderfuls: 24 Dolls to Sew and Love (you can see the entire schedule here).

Lucky for me I had an eager four year old who happily flipped through the book with me, and declared about eight projects her "very favorite". It's tough to pick just one. Tiny little mermaids, topsy-turvy dolls, sweet little bears and giraffes, there is a ridiculous amount of cute. Bee finally settled on one project, the Tag-a-Long doll, which fits in a little apron you can wear. We'll be starting it immediately.

One of my favorite parts of Hillary's blog has always been her stash of vintage children's books, so I asked her to share a bit about her thrifting habits and share a few of her favorite books.

Where do you find so many beautiful books?

We spend a lot of time at used book sales. We try to hit more remote, less "hip" communities and then go on the last day when the books are dirt cheap, like a dollar a bag, and there are always lots of great vintage books to scoop up.

How did you start collecting?

One of the things my husband and I discovered we had in common when we first met was our love of the second hand. We spent a lot of time at flea markets, book sales, thrift stores before the kids arrived on the scene. And we're both book lovers and suckers for great illustration so we had quite a book collection ready to read to our kids. Funny though, they're not all great reads. I definitely pick a book by its cover, and endpapers and font and illustration, etc. When we started actually reading the stories out loud we discovered we have some real stinkers. Especially some of the crazy bad holiday books. They're hilarious!

Here are some favorites from Hillary's latest haul:

Love the sleeping animals on the endpapers of this copy of Sleeping Beauty (illustrated by Vivienne Blake). How cute would it be to make a series of sleeping stuffed animals, bedtime pals.

I love books that are done in just a few colors. (Ten Big Garms, written and illustrated by Dahlov Ipcar)

And books with every color are good too. Love the technicolor of this one! (Foolish and Wise, editors Nila Banton Smith, Hazel C. Hart, and Clara Belle Baker)

Eloise Wilkin melts my heart every time. Those little faces are burned in my memory from my childhood books. (The Make-Believe Parade, story by Jan Margo pictures by Eloise Wilkin)

I just love these colors. And that poor sad little Betsy, how cute is she. (Betsy's Adventure, story and pictures by Gwyneth Mamlok)

To see more of Hillary's finds, check out her Vintage Books flickr group.

And to enter to win a copy of Wee Wonderfuls, visit STC Craft's website and tell them about your favorite childhood toy.


mom beach day

On Saturday we had our first "Mom Beach Day", and I hope it becomes a yearly tradition.

During the summer we spend a lot of our time at the beach. I loved the ocean when I was a kid, and my children love it as well. There are endless ways to spend your time: running from the waves, looking at tidepools, collecting seashells, building sandcastles, chasing the seagulls... The beach is the only place where my children just play! I have to remind them to eat lunch, to drink some water, to put on some sunscreen.

And though I love going to the beach with my children, I can't say it's entirely relaxing for me. I'm always watching to make sure the kids stay close, or that they aren't about to be knocked over by a wave, or that they don't accidentally shovel sand on the person sitting next to us.

This year I sent out an invitation for "Mom Beach Day". It said something like "Join us for a child free afternoon at the beach. Read a book. Go boogie boarding. Plug in your iPod and relax! You don't have to worry that your kids are drowning!". We started at 3 PM, so that people could still spend the majority of the day with their families (and attend soccer games, etc.). Everyone brought something to eat for dinner and a little snack to share.

It felt strange to walk down to the beach with nothing but my beach chair and a good book. My husband even took Baby M (who turns three months old this week!). And I loved seeing all my friends arrive, one by one, without children in tow. I can't say I got much reading done, I spent most of my time just chatting.. it's so much easier to have a conversation when little hands aren't pulling you to the swings or reaching in your purse for crackers.

When it started to get a little bit chilly, we built a bonfire and kept on talking. And at around 8 PM, JR called and reminded me I needed to head back (to feed my baby, to kiss my children goodnight). And very happily I came home.


a balloon pinata - the how to

We needed lots of candy in our balloons for our balloon pinata. Our first attempts, just opening the neck of a standard latex balloon and shoving in as much candy as we could, averaged about 3 to 4 pieces before we poked a hole somewhere. My husband then decided it was time for a new plan and a trip to Home Depot.

The basic concept is to create a vacuum so you can expand the balloon, insert your candy, and then slowly deflate the balloon. This was the method my husband came up with, but you could make a vacuum any number of ways. You'll need a wet/dry vacuum, and a few other items: a 4" PVC pipe elbow, a 4" rubber end cap, a piece of PVC coupling that's big enough for your candy to pass through, a 4" to 2" reducer, and a little valve to help control the airflow. (All this will run you about $20, assuming you have a vacuum.)

You can see everything in the photo above. Starting from the left side: the valve (attached to the wet/dry vac), some PVC pipe, a 4" to 2" reducer (the black funnel-like piece), and a 4" elbow piece of PVC pipe.

You need to cut a hole in the rubber end cap (the black piece on the bottom right) to fit your 2" PVC coupling. This is what you will feed your candy through.

Once you're all assembled, stretch the neck of the balloon over the 2" pipe coupling. Then slide the rubber end cap onto the elbow piece, with the balloon inside the elbow.

Now the tricky part: You need to open up the valve just enough to create a vacuum and expand your balloon. It's all about pressure, you need a decent amount of pressure to expand the balloon, but if you use too much, it will pop. 

It's probably not a perfect seal, so you need to maintain the vacuum with a certain amount of pressure to keep the balloon blown up. JR found it helped to manually tweak the pressure by holding the joint between the valve and the wet/dry vac hose (see photo below).

Once your balloon is expanded, grab your candy and drop it piece by piece through the 2" piece of coupling (we made ours big enough to fit our biggest piece of candy, a box of Nerds). We found 13-15 pieces of candy worked well, when we tried to do more we usually popped our balloon. Then slowly tweak the pressure so the balloon deflates around the candy.

When you open up the rubber end cap, you'll see all the candy with the balloon deflated around it. We then used a small hand pump to blow up the balloons to the desired size. 

We blew our balloons up the night before the party and kept them in a large trash bag. Once we were at the park ready for the party, we staple gunned the balloons to a big wooden board (we covered ours with a plastic tablecloth to avoid splinters).

One at a time, each guest at the party stood about 5 feet in front of the board and threw a dart at the balloons, trying to pop one. The balloon would pop, and the candy would explode, and the child got to run and grab all the candy from their balloon. The kids loved it, and even the littlest guys who were 4 and 5 years old could pop a balloon pretty easily. 

Thanks for figuring this one out JR. I love the crazy way your mind works.


a balloon party

C's 6th birthday was a celebration of all things balloon related: helium filled balloons, giant balloons, rocket balloons, punch balloons, water balloons, etc. We held the party at a nearby park and invited a dozen of C's school friends and cousins. C and I drew up a plan for his birthday with ideas for games, favors, the cake, etc.

The part we were most excited about was the Balloon Obstacle Course, which was based on an obstacle course we did back at Martha Stewart Kids. We held the party at a local park since the obstacle course needed a decent amount of space. (Lesson #1: Parties not held at home require a lot more work! Don't underestimate the time involved in just hauling things from one place to another!)

The obstacle course started by crawling underneath two tables (we also used them to hold the gifts). Then the kids ran over a balance beam we made from some 2x4s. Next was the wagon pull, where they pulled the wagon around some balloons. Then they held a balloon between their legs and hopped to the next station where it ended with a bucket of water balloons. You had to grab a balloon from the bucket and toss it into another bucket a few feet away.

(Lesson #2: Sometimes things aren't quite as fun as you think they will be!) The kids were excited about the obstacle course, and they cheered the first 3 or 4 people on with lots of enthusiasm. One child could run the course in about two minutes, but when you have twelve children at a party (plus more siblings who wanted to try the course as well) the kids who had already gone seemed a little bored of it by the time we were done. I think next time I would figure out some way to involve the kids more in the course itself so they aren't just sitting watching.. make one child your timer, another in charge of yelling GO!, have one hand out the water balloons, etc.

We kept the food simple: PB+J for the kids, turkey and basil sandwiches for the adults, watermelon, grapes, pretzels, veggies + dip, and lots of juice boxes. For the cake, I blew up little balloons (like the kind you use for water balloons) and tied them to skewers. It made for a festive centerpiece and the balloons were easy to do the day before. (Lesson #3: Cake is a lot more work than cupcakes. It requires a knife, and plates, and forks, etc. I vote cupcakes next time.)

Favor bags were stenciled with a red 6 and held a few dot candies and a punch balloon. The kids used their bags to catch the candy from the "balloon pinata".

The balloon pinata was my favorite part of the party. I love pinatas, and my children always insist on having one at their parties... but the pinatas never seem to work the way I want them to. The kids usually can't get the thing busted open and one of the adults has to step in and finish the job. The pinata just kind of falls to the ground and we have to pick it up and shake the candy out. And then of course, the pushing and shoving as the kids try to grab as much candy as they can.

Here's what we did instead: you know that carnival game where you throw darts at balloons? We filled balloons with candy and hung one balloon for each child on a wooden board (we covered ours with a plastic tablecloth so a splinter wouldn't accidentally pop the balloons). Each kid had a chance to throw a dart (or two or three) at the balloons until one popped and then they got to run up and grab all the candy from their balloon. The kids loved it and we avoided that moment where one child is crying because he didn't get enough candy (which always seems to happen when we have a pinata).

Note: There's a trick to filling up the balloons with candy. If you try to just shove a few pieces into a balloon before you fill it, you'll be able to fit about 3 pieces before you poke a hole somewhere. We wanted a big explosion of candy, and 3 pieces wasn't going to cut it. My husband, who is an engineer at heart, figured out a great way to fill the balloons up with about 15 pieces of candy. And yes, it involved a trip to Home Depot and a Wet Vac. Details to come.


a balloon party - the invites

C turned 6! We had a lot of fun planning this balloon themed party, I love that he is old enough now to really get involved in the planning process. Rather than throwing invites in the mail, I love delivering the invitations in person a few weeks before the party. All the kids we were inviting live close by, and my kids have a lot of fun running around to all their friend's houses. (It also helps me limit how many kids to invite!)

We rolled the invitations into a little tube and then slipped them into a helium filled balloon, along with a few pieces of confetti. It might not surprise you that I worked at a party store when I was a teenager and I can remember filling balloons with confetti or rolled up dollar bills. The trick is to roll up the invitation as small as possible, secure it with a little tape, and then stuff the invite and the confetti into the balloon before it gets filled with helium. Then attach a little sign that reads "Pop me!" to the balloon string.

We used clear balloons so you could see the invite and confetti clearly. C's friends were so happy to see him on their doorstep, balloon in hand. And really, what's more fun than getting to pop a balloon!

More scenes from C's party tomorrow!


a baby shower brunch

Funny story. My sweet friends planned a baby shower for me, a brunch on a Saturday morning. But then I surprised us all by going into labor that Thursday evening, over a month before my due date. When they came to see me at the hospital they insisted we cancel the shower. "No way!" I said, knowing how much work they had already gone to. "The shower is on, I will be there!"

I was due to be released from the hospital Saturday morning at 11 AM. The shower was at 10. "I'm going to need to get discharged early on Saturday," I said to the nurse. "I have a baby shower I need to get to." The nurse looked up at me, "Well you might need to be late for the shower." I replied, "No, see... the shower is for me!" And then all the nurses laughed, and yes, I made it to the shower on time.

It was a lovely morning, in a beautiful setting, with so many of my friends and family. And the food was delicious. So good in fact that I had to contact each person who made something and get the recipe for myself. And of course, I'll share with you (just download this PDF).

The color palette was citrus shades of orange, yellow and a bit of red and green. The sweet invitations were done by my friends over at Blonde Designs (I've edited some information for privacy).

And for favors, my friends made little jars of homemade strawberry jam, which is what JR and I gave out as favors at our wedding. I couldn't believe they had gone to all that work, and the jars looked so pretty sitting out on the table.

I admit I have changed my tune about baby showers. I used to be a strict enforcer of the one-shower-per-person rule. One really great shower for your first baby, and that's it. Friends tried to throw a shower when I had Bee, and I refused, I really hate to be the center of attention. But after struggling for some time to have a baby this go round, I am all about celebrating babies, whether it's your first or your fourth!


39 reasons why I love you

I love my husband. And he knows that. But on his birthday, I like to make sure he knows it in more ways than one. So this year I sat down and wrote out 39 things I love about JR, since he turned 39 this year. (I take it as a good sign that 39 things came fairly easily.. maybe it will get more difficult when he is turning 87?)

Here's how to make your own...  Grab some strips of paper, some colored tape, and some string. Then write 39 things you love about the birthday boy: traits you admire, things you know will make him laugh, add some serious things as well. Lay out some string and tape your strips in order, from number 1 to 39 (mine were about 18 inches apart).

Hang your string up using a little more tape. I put mine up all around our living and dining room, since it's the first room my husband enters when he comes home. They make a festive little garland, and later that night JR walked slowly around the room reading all of the messages.

When I took the garland down a few days later I saved all of the little strips, tucked them into an envelope and stashed it in my husband's desk so he can reread the things I love about him anytime he likes.

And because so many of you asked.. I got my tape as a Christmas gift from here.


this week's library book

Summertime means lots of things at our house: lazy mornings, corn on the cob, afternoons at the pool, ice cream cones, Saturdays spent at the beach with the cousins, the county fair, going to bed a bit later than usual.. and, of course, trips to the library.

I was first introduced to Don and Audrey Wood when C received The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear as a birthday present several years ago. So when I saw The Napping House at the library, I added it to our pile without even opening it up. I do this a lot at the library, find an author I like and then search through the stacks to see how many other books they've written. I figure if I love one book, the other books can't be half bad.

The Napping House tells the story of "a napping house, where everyone is sleeping". First the snoring granny, then a dreaming child, and on and on with a dozing dog, a snoozing cat, a slumbering mouse... and finally a wakeful flea, all in a pile on grandmother's bed.

When the flea decides to bite the mouse, which scratches the cat, which claws the dog.. and so on and so on, needless to say the nap is soon over.

I read in an interview with Audrey Wood that this book was based on the napping habits of their son Bruce, who refused to nap at home, but would nap at his granny's house where everything was quiet. "We learned by trial and error that the only way we could get him to sleep was to walk him the two blocks to his granny’s house. Everything there was restful and calm, and granny (my mother) always loved to take an afternoon nap. She owned a fluffy dog, and when granny, the dog, and Bruce settled into her cozy bed, everyone was dreaming in minutes. This became a daily ritual, and we began to refer to my mother’s home as "the napping house." That’s how the book was born."


favorite things

My friends have started a great tradition of throwing a "Favorite Things" party twice a year. A week before Baby M was born, we gathered at my friends home for the Spring party (they also have a Winter party in early December). Funny enough, I think this may be the only photo of my pregnant belly.

Here's how it works: Each person brings their favorite thing (anything you like.. your favorite lip gloss, favorite kitchen tool, favorite gift wrapping supply, a gift card for your favorite frozen yogurt, etc.). It can't cost more than $6, and each person brings five of the same thing. When you arrive at the party, you write your name on five slips of paper and throw them in a big bowl. The bowl is passed around, and each person takes five names (making sure you don't pick your own.. or two of the same name).

One at a time each person introduces their favorite thing and then reads the five names they picked from the bowl, passing out their gift to those five guests. After everyone at the party has presented their favorite thing, each person should end up with five gifts to take home. It's always interesting to see what people choose, and some guests have started to bring a notepad and pen to jot down what people love (this is how I was introduced to Trader Joe's Sea Salt Chocolate Caramels, which are nearly my undoing each winter).

This year I decided to bring basil plants as my favorite thing. It's always nice to cook with fresh herbs, but I hate buying a little pack at the store, using a few leaves, and then tossing the rest away when they go bad. Basil plants are inexpensive (these were $2.99) and somehow they stay alive for quite a while in my yard, despite my lack of a green thumb. I printed up some of my favorite recipes that use fresh basil and included that, along with a little jar of pre-made pesto (I like Trader Joe's version).

You can download my favorite basil recipes here.. (These are printed four to a page, so you can print them out, and add them to your recipe file.) And if you have a favorite basil recipe you'd like to share, feel free to comment, my basil plant is producing like crazy right now!


independence day

It's been a busy week for our family... and a bit of a roller coaster ride. On Thursday evening, our baby decided to assert her independence and make her way into the world, four and a half weeks before her due date! She took us completely by surprise, and we are still amazed that she is here already.

It was a fast and easy delivery.. but nervewracking none the less as babies born over a month early often have breathing and other issues that can keep them at the hospital for weeks. We feel very lucky that our little girl is doing so well. She has always been able to breathe on her own, is nursing and eating, and is gaining weight quickly. We are very hopeful that she can come home soon to be with her family and meet her siblings (C and Bee aren't allowed in the NICU, and are super anxious to meet their sister!).

I will admit I feel very torn running between the NICU and home, trying to spend time with Bee and C, but also be at the hospital as many hours a day as possible. I am counting my blessings daily, so happy she is healthy and that my husband can be home with the kids when I am away. We have high hopes that she will be home by the weekend. Fingers crossed that she gets to see a firework or two. Happy 4th to you and yours..

(Directions for these star cupcakes, which would be perfect for the 4th of July, here.)

UPDATE: Thank you, for all your kind comments. After 8 long days in the NICU, Baby M came home last night! We are so so happy to have her home.. Bee and C are beside themselves and literally cannot stop touching her tiny little fingers (there is a lot of hand washing going on here!). She will be on a portable monitor for the next few weeks so the doctors can continue looking at her heart and breathing, but she is doing great!