Sunday, December 26, 2010

Interactive Backdrop?

Little Tomato's big Christmas gift this year was a 'labor of love' from mom.

{Any suggestions on what to call this would be welcome! At the moment I will call it an interactive backdrop.

I envisioned this project when I saw these fabulous felt playhouses on Etsy and a blog. Since Miss M already has a cardboard play house, I envisioned something that would coordinate with her house and would be an interactive play and learning experience. I sketched out a design and began working...

The project is essentially a PVC pipe frame which is 5'-6" x 5'-6" in size with a fleece sleeve which slips over the frame. The sleeve has appliqued scenes on both sides which were made to be interactive.

Side A: Vegetable Garden
  • The tree has velcro attachments which allow three-dimensional felt apples to be picked from the tree. I will also be making lemons and oranges to attach in the future.
  • The vine has velcro attachments which allow three-dimensional felt tomatoes to be picked from the vine. I will also be making eggplant and cucumbers to attach in the future.
  • The corn stalk husks are pockets for corn cobs. I have not been happy with my attempts at making the corn out of felt, so I plan on purchasing this fabulous pattern... and learning how to crochet in the process!!
  • Part 2 of this project (I ran out of time before Christmas!) will be to create dirt rows to lay in front of the garden for root vegetables. I found some great examples here and here to use as a guide.
We hope this will plant the love of gardening into our little girl before spring, so she will be a seasoned pro in the garden next year!  

Side B: Night Forest
  • The pond has a pocket in the water to place fish.
  • Pillow logs and flame were made to place in front of the nighttime scene for a campfire. 
  • Part 2 of this project will be felt marshmallows with holes in the center to place on dowels for roasting and felt chocolate bars and graham crackers to make the perfect mess-free smores!
Next year, we plan on including the little one on our camping adventures, so during the cold winter months we will have plenty of practice telling fireside tales and snuggling under a blanket at her pretend campsite! 

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 3, 2010

No Bake Cookies

 There is nothing quite equal to listening to holiday music with a fire in the fireplace
while making sweets with the family to get one in the holiday spirit! 

No Bake Cookies:
1-1/2 cups of sugar
1/4 cup of cocoa
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/3 cup margarine or butter (converts to 5 tbsp in butter terms)
1/3 cup chunky peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups of instant oatmeal 

Stir sugar, cocoa, milk and margarine/ butter over medium heat until it bubbles. 
Boil and stir for an additional 2 minutes, then remove from heat.
Add peanut butter, vanilla and oatmeal. 
Stir until melted.
Drop mixture onto waxed paper and refrigerate until cookies set. 

Enjoy the deliciousness.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Vala's Pumpkin Patch

Vala's Pumpkin Patch: New Farm Animal Band
Cow and Donkey lead the musical medleys and Rabbit leads the harmonizing corn.
"9 Corn" got forked! The three little Pigs get into the grove banging on pails & cans.

I have always celebrated the fall. There is something about the crisp scent in the air, the vibrant and vivid colors of nature, the introduction of caramel apples, bonfires, s'mores, and hot chocolate... it is hands-down my favorite time of year.

When I was a child my family made an autumn tradition of visiting a local pumpkin patch. What began as a modest pumpkin farm with hayrack rides has transformed through the years into a smorgasbord of fall family activities. From their haunted house and corn maze to their bunny village, petting zoo, train rides, pig races, animatronic storybook village and farm animal band- just to name a few! Here is a sneak peek of Vala's Pumpkin Patch!! 

Vala's Pumpkin Patch: Bunny Village
Complete with bunny-sized schoolhouse,  water mill, stream, houses and barns.
And a bunny scarecrow!
Includes a sign stating that this was provided by "Rabb-i-tat for Haremanity."

Vala's Pumpkin Patch: Petting Zoo
Feed the goats, llamas, camel and goose. I was a big fan of this sweet little llama. 
Vala's Pumpkin Patch: Scarecrow Band and Ogre!
One of the first animatronic features added to Vala's, the Scarecrow Band! CD available at the Big Barn Shop.
The joke-telling Ogre.
Photo opportunities are endless. One of my favorites: the stocks!
Stocks are complete with a "Trouble Makers, Malcontents and Lollygagers" sign.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Little Things

I count myself blessed to have the opportunity,
every day,
to see life anew through the eyes of a child.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cirque Tutu

Last week I worked on the design of a circus themed tutu.

When I thought of 'circus', the first thing that came to mind was  "La Nouba" Cirque du Soleil at Disney. I saw this a few years ago, and it left a lasting impression. The theater is designed to resemble a 'big top' tent and at night the glow of the building has an air of mystery, just as I imagine the original tent shows once did. The same circus fare of cotton candy, popcorn, and souvenirs is offered inside as you make your way to your seats. However, the sophistication of the music, the level of detail in the costumes, and the jaw dropping performances are unlike any circus show I had seen before. 

While my daughter was coloring beside me, I drew up my idea of a circus themed tutu from this experience. The colors, while not necessarily the primary colors of a classic circus, have a whimsical feel to them. I drew petti-tutu ends and an over-exaggerated bow to the design, as I felt the puffy-fullness and large scale bow reflect the over-exaggerated features of a clown.

The following day, I selected tulle colors and began working...
The final Cirque Tutu!

*Fabulous photography provided by Katherine Marie

Monday, August 23, 2010


... We picked fresh raspberries at a farm ...

... We spent time with good friends ...

... And we cooled off at the water park.

How are you spending your hot summer days?

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Cat's Meow

Isn't this mask just the cat's meow?

I modeled this one after the leopard cat, which has dramatic markings around the facial features... but I think I will be creating another iteration on it now that I found this stunning photo. The combination of white and chocolate along the eyes will be pretty fun to play with. 

Back to the sewing machine!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cookie Time!


Last week I made a felt cookie and dough set for my cousin. Cookies are an extremely easy felt food project to complete, especially since it really doesn't require a pattern (aside from cookie cutters).
 See this tutorial for the basics. 

I made a few modifications to the tutorial:
 Instead of separate 'uncooked' and 'cooked' cookies, I just stuck with the one set.
The felt red icing is sewn onto the cookie with a satin stitch to make it look more crisp.
I used contrasting pink thread satin stitches to make sprinkles on the cookies.

Enjoy baking! 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

1) Animal Carousel. Unfortunately the Giraffe and Tiger do not move up and down.
2) Face to face with a lion! 
3) A Peahen preening her feathers, to impress the eligible bachelors.
4) Don't be Koi with Me Pond. 

A few facts about animals learned yesterday at the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo:

*Orangutans are among the most intelligent of apes. The zoo had a orangutan who not only created a tool to pick the locks of their exhibit (to go galavanting around at night!), but cleverly hid this tool in his jawline to conceal it from the zookeepers! 

*Like human fingerprints, zebra stripes are unique to each zebra.

*Only the male of the species is called a Peacock.

1) I just couldn't resist photographing the peafowl in the flowers. 
2 & 3) In the Butterfly & Insect Pavilion, you get to walk among the butterflies.
4) Peafowl in love.

The End.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Trivia for the Day: 
The male of the species is a Peacock.
The female of the species is a Peahen.
The babies are Peachicks.
And the general term: Peafowl! 

Fabulous day at the zoo today. More later. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What Are the Words Again?

My mother visited last weekend. Now, my daughter has a great love for ducks. And of course, the rubber duck is her favorite water toy. So as my mother was playing with her in the inflatable pool, she taught her a song she used to sing for me, "Six little ducks that I once knew; fat ones, skinny ones, tall ones too..."

Once she left, my daughter wanted me to sing her the song. So I used my favorite cheat for song lyrics until I had it inevitably memorized: On this site you can find pretty much any children's song lyrics imaginable. You can search by a specific song, or look for songs on a specific theme (animal, counting, nature, etc). Thought I would share this great find, as I know we all have that moment where we do the embarrassing 'mumble hum' for the words we just can't remember.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Summer Evenings Spent Planting

Gardening is about enjoying the smell of things growing in the soil, getting dirty without feeling guilty, and generally taking the time to soak up a little peace and serenity.  ~Lindley Karstens,

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Black Hills Adventure

Several weeks ago, shortly after my daughter's birthday party, Husband came home from work and we sat down to dinner. Nothing out of the usual, except that the gears in his head were turning. He was talking about camping earlier in the day with a co-worker, and at dinner he did some calculating in that head of his. We hadn't been on a vacation in 2-1/2 years.
We were overdo.
Fast forward to two weeks later. We had our camping checklist and gear laid out, maps marked up for the campgrounds and trails in the Black Hills area, and our sitters lined up for 6 full days of an 'outdoor adventure'. 

Lesson Learned #1: Have a Solid Understanding of the Size of your Vehicle.
While husband and I did a vast amount of research into the proper gear, food and supplies required for camping, we neglected to remember that our last vehicle, a 'small class SUV,' had far more trunk space than our updated 'crossover.' After a good hour of finessing, all four doors could close and we had almost 18 cubic inches of space to spare! Next time... pack less.

Lesson Learned #2: It Isn't a Good Idea to Take the Highways to South Dakota when it is Apparently Flood Season.

Evidently 'April Showers' took a raincheck into June this year (pun intended). While the interstate would probably have been an easier way to drive to South Dakota, the highways through rural Nebraska are far prettier. We opted for this route, and planned to break up the driving into an afternoon of driving, an overnight at a small hotel, and a late morning check-in at the camp site.
While this was a great idea in theory, we did not plan for the sandbagged roads and detours we ran into along the way. We also did not adequately check the current weather situation for that evening in Northwest Nebraska. So we were caught on a highway with no ditches, no tree cover, and no turn offs, during a severe thunderstorm with 70 mph winds. Next time, interstate, you are my friend.

A few highlights of the Black Hills:
Little Devil's Tower Hiking Trail: One of the shorter trails in Custer State Park, we took this trail on our first day. The Custer State Park brochure listed the trailhead as a way to reach Harney Peak, but did not mention much about the 'spur trail' to Little Devil's Tower. This trail is strenuous. The hike is not pretty for much of the time, as this area contains many dead & dying trees, and due to this there is also very little shade. However, once you reach the summit you will find gorgeous views of the Black Hills. This trail is also not very travelled, so you will have far more solitude than the various other trails in the park.

View from Little Devil's Tower Summit

Harney Peak Hiking Trail: There are two trailhead points to reach Harney Peak, and this is the most popular hiking in the park, as evidenced by the t-shirts you can purchase at the State Park General Store which proudly proclaim, "Take a Hike! Harney Peak, elevation 7,242". The hike is 3 miles one way to the tower at the summit. You can see across four states from the tower, and the view is spectacular.

View from Harney Peak Summit

Iron Mountain Road heading
north (early morning if at all possible): While we took this road into Custer State Park after leaving Mt. Rushmore and the town of Keystone (which is north of the State Park area), we did not leave the park using this road until the final day of our trip. In general it is a twisty, scenic road through the park with beautiful views of the hills. However, if you take this road north, as we did on our final morning in Custer, you have a *the best* view of Mt. Rushmore in the Black Hills. Well, at least far better than if you go to the monument, pay your $10 to park, and stand next to the hoards of other tourists with their cameras. If you go in the early morning, this road is also full of wildlife still out & about in the woods. A beautiful drive worth making.  

Sadly, as our camera was packed under various other things in the car on this last drive out, we have no photographic evidence of this.Lesson Learned #3: Camera always in the front seat.

Wildlife Loop Road: Also in Custer State Park, this loop is in the southern portion of the park. Through this long stretch of road you will see the prairie of South Dakota... oh yeah, and as the road name eludes, wildlife. Our first drive through yielded a couple of sightings of lone deer... over the 30 mile drive. On the second drive through we saw the herd of buffalo. While they are impressive creatures, there is something anti-climatic about shooting photos of wildlife out of your car window as you sit in a long parade of vehicles on a paved road... But still. Worth the drive if you have the time.

Now that I am properly rejuvenated by my summer vacation, I will be back soon with more posts!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Birthday Garden Party!

1. Tissue Paper Puff Garland
2. Handmade Felt Birthday Cakes for the birthday girls.
3. Farmer's Market Succulents? Ah, yes please! 
4.  Handmade linen smock, with a flower for flair. 

1. Peonies! The scent is just heavenly.
2. Fresh baked strawberry cupcakes, succulents and peonies decorated the table.

Monday, May 31, 2010


My baby is two next week. I should rephrase; my little girl is two next week. We just concluded her second birthday party, and it was just amazing to see my little lady actually entertain her guests.

She gives her books kisses and runs up to give us spontaneous hugs. She stops during walks to splash in the water, feel grass, and check that her baby doll is strapped in the stroller okay. It is such fun to see life through the eyes of a child. Her excited gibberish while 'reading' books and manic giggles fill what used to be silence in the house. Her trail of toys, books, and food crumbles clutter what used to be a clean house. And I wouldn't trade it for the world. Happy birthday sweetheart. We love you.

While we try to teach our children all about life,
Our children teach us what life is all about.
~Angela Schwindt

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Illustrator Review: Laura Ljungvist

Last year I was working on a children's hospital design (which, sadly, never came to fruition; it was completely reworked design-wise). The inspiration was a linear element which would carry throughout the hospital as a wayfinding element. Each floor of the hospital would highlight features of the city; one floor highlighted parks, another bridges and water, another the cityscape. We wanted a clean-lined, sophisticated graphic style using bold colors that would appeal to children of all ages.

When I stumbled upon Laura's book "Follow the Line" it was like déjà vu. The sketches we drew were eerily similar, and the concept of a line which carries you through space? Wow. It was like she read our minds. And not a single person on the design team had ever seen her work.

Since I first saw Follow the Line, I have collected almost every one of Laura's books. The graphic style is a unique combination of colors and geometric forms. Each page of the three book series not only follows the story, but has activity questions such as "How many cars have their headlights on?" in Follow the Line, or "What shape is the swiss cheese?" in Follow the Line through the House.

As you can see in the illustration below (example page from Follow the Line through the House), there is a line which comes from the left hand side of the page (which is a continuation of the line on the previous page) and becomes the form of the drawers, then becomes the form of stove, the form of the chairs and table base, to finally carry off the right hand side of the page and into the next. I love how the line pulls the reader through the story, while showing the reader how everyday objects can be broken down into simple geometric forms.

If you are interested in seeing more examples of her illustrations, where to buy her books, or information on Laura, check out her website here.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Phase I: Complete

As I mentioned earlier, Little Tomato and my cousin Eva are sharing a birthday party this year... and it is next weekend! I still have *loads* to do, but as of now, I can draw a nice big check mark next to the "garland" on my To Do list. Once husband gets home tonight, we can officially hang it up in our living room, but until then... I am eagerly anticipating it!!

Tissue Paper Garland: Complete!

The garland is made of 6" diameter tissue paper puffs tied together with cream organza ribbon. Since we have a tall ceiling in our living room, the BIG puff is going to hang from our ceiling fan in the center of the room. There are four garlands coming off the center ball which are going to attach to the four corners of the living room to give a 'tented' feel in the room. I calculated that I needed 11 puffs per garland, which is a grand total of *45* puffs (counting the big one in the middle).

As it is a spring party, I loved the idea of celebrating everything in bloom. I designed the invitations with a garland of flowers in the upper corner, and printed them on plantable paper so the invitations can be planted and grown into flowers of their own!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Nature Explore!

Nebraska City, home of Arbor Day, has an *amazing* outdoor play area for children called "Nature Explore" at their Arbor Day Farm "Tree Adventure."

Tree Adventure Path

The Tree Adventure has a wide (read: stroller friendly) trail which winds along a wooded path. As you walk through the 'forest', you will find different animal tracks stamped into the concrete, signs describing the various plants and animals, and interactive sculptures which children can play in/ on along the way. The 50 foot tall tree house is also a great feature to get a stunning view of the forest.

What I call an 'interactive sculpture'

However, as wonderful as this trail is, the vast majority of our time is spent in the Nature Explore play area. This features a "nature's treehouse" (see photo below), a messy play area, a nature's art area, and a gi-normous wooden xylophone / music area for children to demonstrate their budding musical talents.

Nature's Treehouse

The treehouse features multiple levels of platforms with wood railings and a cubby full of play silks. The messy play area is a zone full of large limbs and sticks for children to stack, configure and climb on. And the nature's art area features large cubbies of natural wooden building blocks, shells, pine cones and other natural elements to organize and create designs. 

Nature's Art Area on "Giant Tree Cookie Flooring"

Not only is this sensory smorgasbord my favorite playground, but there is a duplicate of this classroom in a 'toddler friendly' size for the wee babes to experience the same outdoor fun as their older counterparts. 

If you are not within feasible driving distance of Nebraska City and want a Nature Explore for your own city (or yard, if you so choose), the Arbor Day website has been updated with a "Nature Explore Sourcebook" which boasts a cheat sheet of all of their unique outdoor play materials. Click here for the link. 

Friday, April 2, 2010

Terrible Yellow Eyes

I have been taken in by Maurice Sendak’s terrible and wonderful monsters.
I love the anger, and the frightfulness, and the joy I find there.
I hope you will find something here as well.
-- Cory Godbey

Cory Godbey, who wrote this quote, created a website as an homage to Maurice Sendak and his story "Where the Wild Things Are." It is a collection of illustrations from talented artists who share an admiration for the book. As someone who has also been inspired by this special children's book, it was amazing to see the diverse collection of illustrations. If you also hold a special place in your heart for this great story, check out this amazing site!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"My favorite French Quarter"... Or "I've Stuffed Myself to the Gills with French Bread"

So my best bud's hubby, Mr. Dish (yes, pun intended), works at the *best* bakery in Nebraska, Le Quartier (get your menu link fixed, boys!). Mr. Dish is the head baker at their 69th and "O" Street shop, and one of the best cooks ever. (And cue my shameless plug for his delicious food blog The Latest DISH).

So, of course, on my trek to Lincoln for Little Tomato to play at the Children's Museum... we made a little stop. And I certainly stocked up on my carbs for the week.

Steve baked me the *most delicious* full sized ciabatta loaf I have ever sunk my teeth into. Perfect crumb and crust (you impressed, Steve? I read your blog and retained the details of the creme de la creme of bread). The entire family ate... oh about HALF of it in one dinner. Three of us. One a toddler. That good.

I also partook of their delectable almond croissant; which I am sure will one day solidify my veins. But I will go out a happy, happy woman. I was even generous enough to share a couple pieces with Little Tomato and little Louie, which anyone who knows me *knows* is not a small feat with pastries!!

If yesterday's carb overload wasn't enough, today I woke up and warmed Le Quartier pecan rolls for breakfast. While I was told their new recipe was to die for, I was not prepared for the awesomeness that is their pecan rolls (oh- and as an aside, their cinnamon rolls are made with brioche dough and homemade icing).  Thankfully I only bought two for us, since I could have easily eaten a pan alone.

Little Tomato and I had a Parisian lunch of fresh fruit, French bread and cheese for lunch. I finished with a glass of Malbec and thought to myself, "This can't get any better."

Monday, February 1, 2010

Book Review: "What Good is a Moose" by Joy Morgan Dey

"Agate" is the story of a moose who thinks there is nothing special about himself. He sees the unique traits of each of his animal friends, but wonders, "What good is a moose?" The watercolor illustrations of his friends, each named after and painted in the color of birthstones, are exquisite. On each page, you learn unique traits of each of the animals, even the moose! A fabulous read before a trip to the zoo.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Feel, Past Tense.

... into a story board! I haven't had time to add too many pieces for the stories yet, but at the moment the little one is wielding an impressive forest of trees, a cute little house and a couple of lovely ladies ready for some fascinating adventures!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Book Review: "The Surprise" by Sylvia van Ommen

It has been a while since I made a blog post... I struggled with 'what kind' of blog I want this to be... Crafts? Personal stories? Design? I couldn't decide, so I have been procrastinating. Today I decided that I am going to write about what interests me... which is all of the above.

So... Almost a month after my first post, I will begin with a book review.

Let me begin with saying: I am a huge advocate for reading. Every holiday as a child I would receive a book with an inscription written in the front cover and it was always a treasured gift. Books make such a lasting impression on little minds, especially when the love and prayers of their parents are included in their favorite books.

Perhaps because of this, I hold a special place in my heart for children's books. I want to share a few of my favorites in the following weeks, and thought I would start with a little-known, 'all ages' picture book: "The Surprise" by Sylvia van Ommen.

"The Surprise" is a wordless 32 page mystery. The illustrations are simple and sophisticated using bold colors and simple backgrounds to 'spin the tale' (pun intended) of the adorable sheep who is crafting a gift for a friend. This book is the perfect example of 'pictures speak louder than words.' The sheep is given a distinct personality as she measures her wool coat, rides her vespa to the dye store and to the French pink poodle who spins her dyed wool into yarn ... and finally gives the gift she knitted to her best friend. Each picture shows the process of wool clothing from the shearing of the sheep, through the dying, spinning and knitting into a final product. It is a mystery for the little reader who wonders from page 1, "Why is she measuring her coat?" to the end where her wrapped package is taking a vespa ride to its final destination and you finally see what the sheep made for her tall friend. A wonderful story from an extremely talented illustrator in The Netherlands.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Upping the Creativity in our House

While I love a beautiful blanket of snow on a Christmas morn as much as the next person, I did not sign up for the five foot drifts that graced our home this season. As we were cloistered indoors over our holiday vacation, husband and I decided to collaborate on a 'weekend project'... which went a *little* overboard.

Since the recent release of the Disney Pixar movie "Up" to DVD, I have seen the move *at least* 50 times. No joke. This is due to the fact that our little toddler has developed a massive addiction to the movie, and blistering-cold weather has prevented our outdoor time. Thus, naturally, Mom & Dad chose to take her newfound love and make the most of it. We decided to build her a cardboard "Up Playhouse."

Now, husband will tell you, "I just wanted to stick a couple of boxes together, cut a couple of holes in them for windows, and call it her Up house. *YOU* took it to Crazytown."

Together we put approximately 90 man-hours into her house. Husband was the engineering mind, investing duct tape, wrapping paper rolls & reinforced corner panels to the structure. I was on design duty; planning the architectural features and finishing the exterior by adding paper siding and shingles to the house.

The entire project is composed of used cardboard boxes, cleverly recycled into the walls and rooflines of her new digs. All support pieces are from empty wrapping paper rolls & packing materials that came with said boxes. Mr. Sketch scented markers made a comeback this week, as I drew endless accent lines onto the strips of paper to be glued to the cardboard as siding (with my trusty bottle of Elmer's glue). I'm not going to lie... we went a little crafty-crazy with it.

The interior isn't finished, but is already coming along with it's own cardboard fireplace and "Ellie painting" of Paradise Falls. And, of course, the house wouldn't be complete without a mailbox. Our piccola's handprint will be added to the mailbox in the future, but apparently paint on the hand was a traumatizing experience for the little princess, and we had to abandon ship after her hysterical screaming... Nonetheless, despite the handprint hiccup, I think the project was well worth the smile on her face as she took our hands and pulled us to the front door, wanting to share her new house with Mom & Dad.