Sunday, December 19, 2010

quick crafts: things to do in under an hour

My sister emailed me today with pictures of her and my niece's Sunday morning activity, which demonstrates there is no end to the non-ice cream things you can do with an ice cream cone. Cone robots, cone trees, cone snowmen...And I love that the dregs of the Halloween candy will come to a useful end.

A Surprise Ball is a fun homemade option to those obscenely overpriced Christmas crackers. You'll find good tutorials at Speckled Egg and at Not Martha, but essentially all you need is a roll or two of crepe paper streamers and a bunch of small and/or flat trinkets to roll up inside the layers of crepe. Think stickers, photos, tattoos, charms, candy...

I actually have hundreds - literally hundreds - of these glass votive holders (leftover from my wedding) so I am always interested in votive-related crafts. These pretty branch and pine cone votives are described at Garden Mama. A kid-friendly votive project involving white craft glue and coloured rock sugar sprinkles is over here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

free shipping weekend & 20% off manhattan toy

Pulling out the big guns this weekend with an unprecedented double offer: free shipping and 20% off everything Manhattan Toy. Save! And wrap it up.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

the excitement is building

Here it is December 7 and we do not yet have a tree. My children are incensed. And I am fighting a swell of resentment at the notion of having to be "done". It's December 7th! My commitment to slow living is being seriously tested. I went to Sheridan Nurseries today for some cedar roping and was aghast at the emptiness of it. Clearly I missed the email that we were supposed to be all decked out by now. One bonus: everything was 25% off - if a little brown around the edges, but what the heck. So with cedar roping now in place, a holiday urn at the doorstep and a stack of Christmas cards that I'm pretty sure will get mailed this year, Christmas is underway, but it doesn't feel official until the tree works its magic in the living room. We have plans to visit the tree farm in Hockley Valley on Sunday. I have promised that it will be worth the wait - especially if we have to wade waist-deep in snow to find the perfect tree. Wasn't yesterday's snow so great? We have managed to get Santa letters written,  but not actually mailed. I find it impossible to part with those little handwritten notes. I have kept every letter (along with notes to the tooth fairy and a bunch of weird little baby teeth) at the terrible risk of my daughter one day coming across the stash and discovering that her entreaties never made it out of my nightstand let alone to the North Pole.

Almost as much fun as getting a letter from Santa, the Portable North Pole personalized video is back this year with new backgrounds to foil older kids. You'll need a digital photo of your kid and about 10 minutes to plug in all the info. Fun.


Friday, December 3, 2010

making a list

The December issue of Martha Stewart magazine has been on my coffee table for at least three weeks already - and it's full of lovely ideas, naturally - but I was most eager to find and download the free Gift List template promoted inside. I no longer trust my mental filing system, so something like this is a huge help to me.    
But if, like me, you tried to find the template online you were foiled until December 1st, when it was finally available online. Download it here as a very useful and nicely organized Excel spreadsheet. There are columns that keep track of everyone on your list and gives you a running tally of expenses. Nifty!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

a welcome light

Love this!

For a couple of years I've been a supporter of  Kiva, a micro-financing non-profit that connects lenders with borrowers in developing countries. It's been such an interesting experience reading the applicant profiles and checking in every couple of months to see how their business plans are progressing. I get a little thrill when my email rings with news of a Kiva repayment. Hooray for small business!

Along the same good lines of Kiva but more gifty, Prosperity Candles are handmade by women entrepreneurs living in distressed countries around the world. The woman pictured here is a widow from Baghdad who is rebuilding her life and supporting her children through this enterprise. It's a really inspiring organization - you should definitely check them out. And then buy some pretty candles! At $25 a piece they're perfectly priced for teacher and hostess gifts. They're made from soy-based wax with a clean burning cotton wick, so there's thought put into quality too. I love that this is a gift that gives twice: once to the recipient and once to the maker. Happy Hols.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Return of Little Twig

I'm so glad to be back in stock in Little Twig. Well almost back in stock - the shipment left sunny California today and I should have it in a week or so. I became a LT fan three years ago when the paraben boogey man arrived and I started scrutinizing shampoo and baby wash labels a little more closely. Little Twig's wholesome bath products smell nice and delivered the goods: hair is left shiny, bubbles are bubbly, and my eczema-prone daughter remained itch-free. I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but generally the things in my shop are there because I've used them - and liked them - before I stock them in the shop. I think that is an important distinction.

But then our dollar went south and the price of Twig, which was already premium, reached Holt Renfrew cosmetic counter levels. Thinking about the cost of every capful kind of takes the fun out of bath time. I stopped stocking it for a time, and tried, without much success, to find something wholesome at Shoppers Drug Mart to use at home.

But with the loonie somewhere near parity and new lower prices from Little Twig, I am delighted to have this superb line of shampoo, wash and bath bubbles back in stock. Yay.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

haunting the house

Despite Stella's complaints that our house isn't scary enough, I like it just fine.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Is organization overrated?

If I haven't already introduced you to the lovely home of Oh My! Handmade Goodness, I hope you will excuse my tardiness. OMHG is an online community for and about independent children's retailers, parents and makers of handcrafted goods. It launched earlier this year in Chicago and I was approached to be a contributor by then-editor (and one of my favourite people) and graphic designer Sara Tams. Oh My is now based in Canada - Halifax to be exact - which means there is a growing amount of quality Can-Con related to running a small business.

As evidenced from the header above (which I suspect is from July or August but most certainly is not from September) I am a lackadaisical blogger. Don't get me wrong: I like the idea of blogging but I like the idea of a quality posts more and I find the effort required to think, write, format, proof and post daily a most daunting task. Which is why I am quite happy to be a monthly contributor over at Oh My. I can manage 500 coherent words a month. I skipped August due to summer malaise. What's a lazy blogger to do? Repost! Write once, publish twice. This month the editor of Oh My, Jessika, asked the monthly contribs for tips and thoughts on how we work-from-home folks organize our lives and spaces. Oh dear, I immediately thought. I wouldn't go as far to say it's a nightmare on par with, say, posing for the camera in a two-piece bathing suit. But it's close. It's close. Read on and you'll understand. The original post, Is organization overrated?, ran yesterday at Oh My Handmade Goodness. Here's the repost:

Full disclosure: on the subject of time management and organization I am in no way qualified to offer advice. My business GST/HST is generally filed on the last minute of the last day it’s due. I routinely chase my kids down the street waving permission slips or mittens or lunch. And I waste an unforgivable amount of time looking for files, receipts and vendor catalogues – things that I need daily to run my business. I realized how chronic the situation was earlier this year when I lost a library copy of Eliminate Chaos: The 10 Step Process to Organize Your Home And Life (the best organizing book I’ve ever read, ironically) and had to pay $24.95 for a well-thumbed paperback that to this day has not surfaced. What can I say? Disorganization is in my DNA. Procrastination is my natural state. I’ve been that way since I was a daydreaming-missed-the-bus kid and I don’t think it’s going to change even though I now run a business, a house and a family.

Like those people who love to watch the Food Network but who don’t actually cook I have an attraction to the trappings of an orderly and well-managed life. I would rather shop for daytimers, calendars, digital tools, notebooks, pretty to-do list pads, lovely pens, bunny-shaped paper clips, and Rubbermaid bins than shoes. Indeed I have bought it all. Some stuff worked but most didn’t. I have reluctantly come to accept that my desire to run a smooth operation is just one more thing that I kind of admire but have no real intention of mastering. Like baking my own bread or figuring out Quick Books. My methods may not be business school-approved but I do manage to get things done in my own way. I’ve never analyzed it (indeed, writing this post is  as much analysis as I’ve ever given it) but I suppose I could boil my approach down to one central business practice and one guiding principle. I find that as long as I keep these two things front of mind then I am taking care of business.

1. A Map Is All I Need: The Essential Marketing Calendar
As a retail business owner I have to plan ahead three to six months. This means buying, advertising, editorial, budgets and sales forecasts. It is no good to sit down with a cup of hot chocolate and notepad as the first snow flies and contemplate how I am going to drum up holiday business. Neither should I order sand pails and watering cans in June. My calendar follows a traditional quarterly schedule, so it is straightforward for me to plan what products I need to have and when I need to have them. From there it’s simple to plot out events, newsletter themes, advertising plans and editorial pushes for the quarter and then the year.  Your business might be dictated by a key trade show, wholesale buying season or some other factor, but the point is, a marketing calendar is a good discipline for keeping the big picture in mind. My calendar forces me to spend time working “on” my business ( planning, strategizing, analysis) when much of my day is spent working “in” my business (answering emails, phone calls, shipping orders, updating the website).

2. Right now, am I doing what I should be doing?
My seven-year old daughter will finish breakfast, wander down to her room to get dressed for school and while navigating those 30 or so steps she might stop in front of a mirror and make silly faces at herself. Which leads to the discovery of a loose tooth. Which prompts her to make sure there are no apples in her lunchbox. And while unpacking her lunch she discovers there is butter on the sandwich bread and she didn’t want butter today. Oh, and can she bring popcorn to share with the class? And now ten minutes have passed and she is no closer to getting dressed. I occasionally get sucked into her digressions, but I will try catch myself and ask “Stella, is this what you should be doing right now?” It’s usually enough to get her back to the task at hand. Working from home can be incredibly distracting and with precious few quiet hours during the school day I need to frequently check in with myself by asking “Is this what I should be doing?” It forces me to be mindful and purposeful with my time.

And that’s it folks. I roll with the punches. I get stuff done some days and next to nothing on others. Since making the decision to close my brick and mortar shop to focus on the online business, I’ve greeted each day with fresh coffee, my laptop and a good dose of gratitude that I am able to choose how I spend my day. It’s pretty great, but messy.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Owl Party

Say what you will about the everywhereness of owls - I still think they're tops. I'm not alone in my appreciation for wide-eyed owlets: a customer planning an owl-themed party for her daughter's fourth birthday got me thinking...and looking. You can find owlish things in any colour to suit your fancy or time of year. The autumn colour scheme shown here is especially nice for fall birthday parties.

Of course the birthday boy-or-girl will want to greet guests in full owl costume. Directions to make the adorable headdress are at Parenting; and there is a pretty fantastic owl cape to be made over at TLC.

I've never met a kid who eats fondant, so enjoy the inspiration shot but save the fancy cakes for adults (who probably won't eat fondant either, but at least they won't take a lick and abandon their cupcake in your sofa cushions) and try your hand at the show-stopping chocolate cupcakes that feature the oh-so-good combination of buttercream icing and Oreo cookie halves (for eyes). Directions at Ezra Poundcake.

Handmade felt pencil toppers from Whimsy Love do double duty as cupcake toppers. Make them ahead or set up a craft table with pre-cut the felt - or use paper - shapes, glue and fabric paint pens. Paper bag crafts are another craftivity idea. Paper bag owl puppet instructions from DLTK's.

Clear cello envelope bags could be filled with candy or other small treats. This candy corn-filled one features layers of punched shapes (full instructions at but if you didn't have access to all of the various punches and papers, I think you could also colour copy a, cute owl onto basic cardstock and cut it out. Martha Stewart's standing owl treat boxes are wonderful, but they used "egg-shaped pressed paper boxes" and three colours of crepe paper and are, therefore, not for the craft faint of heart.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Ahoy! Pirate Party

Henry, like some other four-year olds I've known, is lately besotted with pirates. I couldn't say for certain, but I think it started with a screening of Hook a few weeks ago. If you can get past Robin Williams as a defeated, amnesiac and middle-aged Peter Pan, Dustin Hoffman's turn as Captain James Hook really is quite exciting. Don't get me started on Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell. Oh Hollywood. So back to parties. Pirate parties. Henry's little summer camp did a terrific job with this week's theme of Treasure Island and I thought some of their ideas would easily work for a birthday party. Avast ye little mateys! Time to board the good ship Bearded Squid as we sail the high seas in search of treasure. (Get your own pirate ship name here.)

Bottom: Cupcake, Mask, Treasures

Get everyone in the pirate spirit with costumes and props. Kids were given black bandanas that had been stamped with pirate-themed designs (skulls, swords, treasure chests) using white fabric paint. The bandanas can be tied around heads, necks or wrists. Use cheap-o black broadcloth (or a remnant) and be sure to trim with pinking shears to prevent fraying. The triangle-shaped bandanas to fit 3 to 8 year olds measures 33" along one edge and 22" along the other two. Eye patches, cardboard swords, tattoos or face-painting cool moustaches are other ideas.

Activities. I always like having a craft table on the go. It's a good place for guests to gather and keep busy while you're waiting for others to arrive. If things get cuckoo, as they sometimes do at these things, a craft table is a good way to focus and bring the energy back down. It could be as simple as pirate colouring pages that you print out and have a bucket or two of markers, crayons and glitter pens at the ready. Or something more involved like the painted pirate masks mounted on a stick, and which the kids decorated using glitter glue pens and stick-on jewels. Little kids might enjoy making a hidden treasure bottle using an empty water bottle filled with sand. They can add glitter and jewels or secret messages before sealing the lid.

Main Event. Bake or simply decorate pre-made buried treasure cupcakes. After the batter is poured, add a Smartie or M&M to the top of each; the candy will sink and kind of melt as it bakes, making "hidden treasure". Kids can mix their own small bowls of frosting to get the right colour. Or, have candy and licorice on hand to make something like this Betty Crocker special:


If there is cake too, have some cello or small boxes on hand so guests can bring their cupcake home to eat. It all becomes part of the loot bag in the end!

Part Two: What pirate party would be complete without a treasure hunt? Gold coins, mardi gras bead necklaces, chocolates, and other small treasures can be found using written clues for older kids, or, like they did at summer camp, using coloured paper footprints to create a trail. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Flag Day

One thing leads to another...a mission for a strawberry rhubarb pie from the farmer's market lead to a chance encounter with the local MP, who was handing out miniature Canada flags. I should have asked for two, but I was lugging a pair of cantaloupes and a dozen ears of corn on one arm while holding the pie aloft. It was hot. I wanted to go home. Henry claimed the flag for his room and Stella sulked, briefly, before deciding to outdo him and create a personal United Nations of paper flags. Using kebab skewers, scrap paper, tape and crayons, she made flags of countries we've visited and flags of the grandparents' places of birth. Pretty clever I thought.

It kept her busy for a good hour while I put the kebab sticks to another use: threading veggie and chicken skewers for the barbeque. I was completely taken with August's Martha. It's hit and miss for me with that magazine, but I thought this issue was great. I made the chimichurri recipe - which called for just 5 or 6 ingredients, all of which I had on hand, miraculously. Chimichurri is as good a reason as any to give the herb pot a much-needed trim, and it elevated simple kebabs into something finger-licking good and guest-worthy.

This could very well be some sort of copyright infringement, but the recipe is too good not to share and I cannot find it on the MS website. So with accreditation but no link here is the chimichurri recipe from the August 2010 issue of Martha Stewart:

Whisk together chopped:
1/2 cup parsley (Martha calls for flat leaf, but I used curly)
1/2 cup fresh oregano
2 minced garlic cloves
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
3/4 tsp coarse salt

Drizzle over kebabs. Bon appetit.

Monday, July 12, 2010

All Aflutter: Butterfly Crafts!

It's butterfly season 'round here. Fluttery, plentiful and definitely not shy black and orange butterflies have been gracing our garden for the last week, delighting us by landing - ever so briefly - on a shoulder or tabletop or a book. I've never understood why I have a mortal fear of moths but butterflies make me smile.

We are a crafty family. Not everything turns out photo perfect. Not every project is worth sharing. I've learned that it's the process of creating and crafting, together and independently, that counts far more than the actual thing that's created. I don't mind white glue on the dining table or watercolours on clothes and hands. I don't worry too much if I don't have it all down pat. We make do and substitute. I do keep a basket of crafty basics at the ready so we are prepared to make stuff when the mood hits. To non-crafters it all seems a bit much, I suspect, but if you're wondering what's in our craft cupboard these are my must-haves:

white glue
tape (regular translucent, masking, packing)
paint brushes (cheap, abundant, all sizes, bristle and foam)
google eyes
pipe cleaners
paper (construction, scrapbook/patterned, plain white copy paper)
wood clothes pins
watercolour palette

On that note, a round-up of butterfly-themed crafts for you to enjoy.

The classic paper coffee filter, three ways:

1. This coffee filter butterfly project uses mere three supplies (watercolours, a pipecleaner and coffee filter) and can be done by preschoolers on up:

2. Same basic idea, but using painted clothespins and crowd-pleasing googly eyes:

3. No paint? No problem. Markers work just fine too: 


Everyone loves handprint crafts:


Wonderful felt butterfly mobile would be a good craft for two or three to work on together. You'll find a great tutorial (and printable butterfly template) here. The project will work with heavy paper if felt isn't on hand:

A simple hand-sewing project with lots of possibilities. The tutorial specifies a safety pin or brooch pin, but I immediately thought magnet, hair clip or head band. If sewing the buttons is too advanced for younger crafters, glue would be OK too. Cute tied to a gift.

Wondertime (how I miss you!) has a nice little activity/craft that lets kids drink like a butterfly. Henry tickled my funny bone when he came home from preschool one day telling me all about the butterfly's proboscis and how they use it to sip from flowers. Printable butterfly colouring pages are simple and fun.

For parties, Martha has this  butterfly-themed loot bag tutorial. If you can't find the little butterflies, a commenter wisely suggested printing and cutting out butterfly images as an alternative.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Keeping Company

Is it really only Wednesday? The first full week of summer holidays and we have been busy making hay while the sun shines and the humidex is 42 degrees. 42! Oh Toronto, you can be so hard to love. With the asphalt in the driveway softening beneath our feet I was sure tennis camp would be canceled, but the Russian matron who runs the program informed me (I swear with a hint of mockery) that tennis players - even seven-year old ones - are a tough breed. Camp is on. Which is good for us because I've discovered that the key to keeping my lot happy is to always be busy and, ideally, to have other kids around. In addition to morning tennis camp we've mixed it up with neighbourhood kids, school chums and family friends, chez nous, because we have a pool. A huge turquoise 1970s rectangle that has absolutely no redeeming aesthetic quality. Nothing. Zip. Zero. It's hopelessly out of scale with the yard. It's perilously close to the house one one side and you have to do an awkward sidestep lest you take an unintended dip while carrying a tray of barbeque fixings. Ahem.  I admit that I have a love-hate relationship with my big blue rectangle - except when it is 42 degrees outside - and then it's the best pool. Ever. And thus with a trail of wet footprints on the floor, a succession of wet bottoms on dining room chairs and endless rounds of Freezie tube snipping, I have been running a small, noisy and highly unprofitable day camp for the past week. But everyone tumbles into bed with warm skin and wild hair smelling of chlorine and sunshine and I wouldn't have life any other way.

Teri, of KuKuNest and Giddy Giddy, has written a lovely family mission statement centred on seeing the world together. It's wonderful food for thought, even if travelling to the far reaches of the world isn't on your agenda. I especially liked this thought:

"Throughout the year we remind ourselves and our girls that we are saving up for our next family adventure. Things like newer cars, home remodels, newer appliances, shiny toys, etc all take a back seat to the more enduring family memories that we forge yearly."  

In that spirit, I declare a truce on homely swimming pools, vinyl kitchen floors and worn-out dining room chairs. Happy summer.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Food: Making Lemonade

When you've got an unruly and persistent patch of mint in the garden and it is also melt-the-asphalt hot outside, there is really only thing to do: make a pitcher of Arnold Palmers. Preferably with homemade lemonade. Here is my recipe, which deviates slightly from the Boca Raton classic:

juice of three lemons
1/2 cup sugar (or to taste) dissolved in warm water
litre bottle of carbonated water
whizz in a blender until frothy

Mix in a pitcher to a ratio of 1:1 with not overly sweet iced tea. Add a big bunch of mint leaves, stems and all. Serve in a tall glass with great chunks of ice. I heartily recommend it.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Baby Hears Mom's Voice for the First Time

It's Friday. The sky is blue, the sun is shining and the birds are singing. We are three days into summer vacation and life is grand. My friend sent me this video link today (it's making the rounds - with good reason) and if you could use a little dash of extra-happiness as you sail into the weekend, you should watch this video of eight-month old Johnathan as his cochlear implant is activated and he hears his mother's voice for the first time. Dad is filming this sweet, magical moment.

Happy weekend.

Home: Typography As Art

I'm smitten with the idea of a large words-only art piece. I adore Linzie Hunter's style. This is part of a series of typographic works based on the subject lines of spam emails. Inspiration is all around:


Another by Linzie Hunter:

Making my own oversized graphic print hadn't occured to me, but then I saw this homemade piece with the awesome quote by Isak Dinesen:

And followed a link to this post where I realized I too can do this:

Off now to peruse my junk mail folder...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Happy Birthday Canada


It doesn't take much to make a party, according to my kids. Any gathering of folks outside our little foursome constitutes a party to them. On long weekends in the summer families on our street gather together to watch fireworks in someone's driveway. Someone brings wine, someone else brings snacks, we brought glow bracelets and necklaces and this patriotic dessert. Which tastes better than it looks. And looks better from a distance. I must have been drinking when I placed the side berries all wonky like that.

I made a couple of minor adjustments to the Kraft Kitchens recipe, which called for Cool Whip and pound cake. I used real whipping cream and a store-bought angel food cake. I'm not a Jell-O fan and, without knowing why, I feel slightly guilty about allowing my kids to eat it. I used it in today for the sake of the recipe and due to my not having a yummier alternative at the ready.

I downloaded and printed out the Maple Leaf template from here. You'll want to hit "print preview" first and change the default setting "shrink to fit" or it will print too small for the cake. 100% worked fine for me.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Birthday Party:: Indian Dance Party

Hop over to Mikodesign and feast your eyes on 9-year old Sofia's India-themed party. Henna tattoos, dress-up saris for the guests, fantastically colourful food, and a backdrop of simple draped fabric and flower garlands to set the scene for a choreography lesson lead by a professional dance instructor. It's all quite wonderful and wonderfully low-key for such an elaborate sounding event.

Thinking about it?

The Himalayan Academy has a staggering library of royalty-free images that could be used for invitations and decor. Ganesh is the god of auspicious occasions:

To make this sample invite, I first uploaded the original ganesh image into Big Huge Lab's colour palette generator, which gave me the right shade of pink: #e95c7f. Next, I opened the original ganesh image in Photoshop and added a canvas of 400 pixels to the right of the image. Then I coloured the canvas pink and added the text. Saved as a jpg, the invitation could be emailed to guests or printed out a photo lab and mailed.

Love this black and white version of ganesh. Print out as a colouring page maybe?

There is a terrific quantity of free mehndi/henna tattoo designs here. Check this gallery of for readily reproducible patterns. Whipping up miniature saris is a simple matter of sewing an elastic waist skirt out of some fabulous colourful fabric. Drape a matching scarf across the body, add some dollar store bangles and you're done. If you're in Toronto, head to Sonu Saree Palace on Gerrard Street East for bargain-priced sari fabric. Otherwise I'd look at an inexpensive georgette at Fabricland.

(Kid's sari photo from Just Kidding)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tutorial:: Felt Play Food

My sewing machine, I confess, is about as overlooked as a dish of cottage cheese at a Chinese food buffet. Which is to say that I have not sat down to sew since...well, since the last time I ate cottage cheese I'd be willing to wager. That said, I am still an enthusiastic collector of tutorials and evidence of other people's wanton creativity. I sometimes like to blame circumstances for my sewing hiatus. In the case of this cute felt sandwich tutorial from Myrtle and Eunice, for instance, the lack of access to wool felt is a hindrance. Poly craft felt just won't do. Not if I'm going to embroider tomato slices and make hand-cut Swiss cheese. No sir. I need the good stuff. Does anyone in TO sell wool felt? Please don't let my felt snobbery stop you. Craft away. Download the pattern and instructions here.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Children's Book Recommendations:: Stories About Feelings

As a kid I don't remember actually owning more than a half-dozen books at any one time. Acton, the town where I grew up, did not have a bookstore. But even so, books were thought of as Christmas and birthday gifts and not something you bought just because and we got our books at the library. But somewhere between here and there I stopped going to the library and started to buy books instead and the library became a quaint memory. Me and the library got reacquainted when kids came along and I realized what chumps we'd been for buying so many books when we could have borrowed them, and more besides, for free. We are a family of library enthusiasts once again. With a four-year old in the house, I look for books tagged with a  Toronto Public Library "Ready For Reading" sticker,  which identifies books that relate to one of the six steps of reading readiness: liking books, hearing word sounds, building vocabulary, narrative, seeing words in print, alphabet awareness. There is more about that here.

Reading and re-reading great books with my kids is something I truly love. They have free reign at the library and I try not to filter any of their selections. But while my son is loading up on books about trucks, trains or dogs I choose a few of my own. I'm gratified when one of my picks makes it into heavy reading rotation. I thought sharing some of our family favourites would make for a good post every now and then. On that note, here are a few books that tackle the messy world of feelings, both good and bad.


Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. 
By Judith Viorst

From waking up with gum in his hair, to his two older brothers both finding a prize in their cereal box while he came up empty-handed, Alexander's day is off to a bad start. And it doesn't get any better. Kid-sized frustrations mount throughout the day and all Alexander can think about is moving to Australia - where surely there is no such thing as a bad day. Written in 1972, this is a cool book to me because his parents don't rush to smooth out his bad feelings - or deny them - the way we might today. Alexander is allowed to have a crummy day and go to bed with the hope that tomorrow will be better.

The Giving Tree
By Shel Silverstein

It was originally published in 1964, though I don't recall reading this book as a child. I picked it up randomly a couple of years ago and so I was able to read it without any expectations or awareness that it was a well-known and beloved book. It's beautiful and sad with a moral that is open to interpretation. Why didn't anyone ever tell me about it? My take is that it is a tender and maybe even unsympathetic parable about parenting and the price of selflessness. But you'll have to decide for yourself. While searching for a cover image for this post I came across a photo of a guy who had an entire page from the book tattooed across his back. What can I can tell you? It's a memorable story worth pondering on your own and with your kid.

The Pigeon Finds A Hot Dog
By Mo Willems

A pigeon finds a hot dog and is about to tuck in to his favourite food in the entire world when he is interrupted by an innocent-seeming duckling with a lot of questions and an ulterior motive. There is something about the snappish dialogue, written using comic book-style speech bubbles, that begs this story to be read aloud with attitude and maybe even an accent. Over the course of many readings we've adopted a sarcastic Bugs Bunny voice for the role of pigeon. But whatever you choose, read with gusto. Cool typography. I didn't think a kid would pay attention to fonts, but my four-year old son understands what parts are loud or angry because of Willems' typography.

The Story of Ferdinand
By Munro Leaf

The story of sweet-natured bull who would rather sit beneath his favourite cork tree and smell the flowers than fight in the bullring in town. A case of mistaken identity leads a group of bullfight organizers to capture Ferdinand and bring him to the city to face the bravest matador. Ferdinand stays true to his nature and refuses to fight and is eventually returned home to his cork tree in the field. The sweetest story of self-acceptance. I was shocked to discover it was published in 1936. Magical drawings of Spain by Robert Lawson.

Happy reading.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Craft:: Word Cloud Birthday Card

Wordle: david's birthday card

Wordle is my new addiction. Since discovering it a few weeks ago we have made word cloud birthday cards, a father's day card, teacher thank-you notes and some random artwork. It couldn't be more simple: type in a bunch of text. Repeat the words you'd like to appear bigger. In the case of David's card above, we typed in "birthday" six times, versus "cake" which was repeated twice and the smallest words were typed just once.  Hit the Create button and prepared to be amused and impressed. Change the font, colour and layout at the click of a button until you're happy. A tip: to keep two words together use the tilde symbol between the words. Type Happy ~ Birthday, or Mrs. ~ Smith or other words that go together. The ~ will display as a space in your finished image. On my computer the tilde key is right above the tab button, and I have to hold down the shift key to get it to display.

To make a birthday card, I print out the image on on card stock and trim to size using a Fiskar's paper trimmer that also has a scoring blade that makes a crisp centre crease. The finished card measures 4.25" by 5.5", which is just the right size to hold a standard gift card.

Happy weekend

Friday, June 25, 2010

Food:: Muffin Tin Lunches

Quirky little folks and their food. You know how some kids (ahem) don't like it when a food on their plate touches a neighbouring food? Like when peas roll into the mashed potatoes or rice grains cling to the green beans? I spend more time plating their food than they do eating it, all in the name of preventing the dreaded co-mingling. Divided plates are one solution, but I think this muffin tin take on a bento box is brilliantly appealing.

This lumberjack breakfast sampler from The Robins Zoo includes bananas, apples and orange sections, sausage bites, bread and yogurt.

A tulip-shaped muffin tin!

This example from Bento Lunch makes good use of a flower punch. So pretty, this would make terrific party food. Top row: mini ham sandwich with cheese centre, cucumber flower with carrot, celery + cream cheese.
Bottom row: watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberry and blueberry muffin bread flowers. Delightful.

There won't be any arguing over who ate all the good stuff with this snack tray for three, from Food for the Boys:

Little Wonder Days made this with a fish-shaped PB&J sandwich, cuc slices + ranch dip, berries, yogurt and Goldfish crackers. I don't know about you, but I like knowing what's for lunch at other people's houses.

If you'd like to see more, or join the Muffin Tin brigade, hop over to Muffin Tin Mom.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Family:: The Summer Bucket List

I am thinking about the end of school next week with mixed emotions. I've never had the luxury (that may not be the right word) of spending an entire summer off with my kids. I'm approaching the task as I imagine a program director on a cruise might do. That is to say, there is a whole lot of planning is going on. Thinking about day trips. Little explorations. Bigger events. People we'd like to hang out with. Free stuff. Things we'd like to make or bake. Of course I'm hoping for some unstructured where-the-day-takes us time as well, but relaxing is a dirty word around here and I don't dare assume that I'll get much feet-up time. Unless a mid-afternoon DVD is involved. And I just feel that notion that I won't contemplate it at the beginning of summer.

I've been hopping all over blog-land these last few days picking up a good idea here and there.I'd like to make some sort of grand to-do list - with my peeps involvement of course - so that we squeeze every drop out of summer and everyone has a hand in creating happy memories.  Lately I'm digging dry erase; no chalkboard dust to contend with and no paper. I need less paper in my life. Eighteen25 posted an amazing mondo summer whiteboard/calendar that lets you write on top of the picture frame glass. They created a pretty background of paper strips pieced together digitally, but you could also do this with a solid piece of fabric or taped scrapbook paper strips if you like:

My fondness for clothes pegs, most especially decorated ones, drew me to this project from Clean Mama. I like the idea of providing a bit of structure (I'd like to play... I'd like to read... I'd like to visit... I'd like to taste...) then trimming them into strips:

Which can be clipped to these lovely paper-covered clothes pegs (another crafty project for a quiet morning) as activities and summer go by:

There's an appealing straightforwardness about 71toes' calendar, which was a collaborative effort involving the entire family and not just mom:

There is no shame in employing a dash of Pavlovian motivation to keep the good behaviour rolling, I say. Grab this free printable of very useful Happy Tickets from Ambrosia Girl:

Adorable All-Purpose Treat Coupons - another free printable - from babalisme: