Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Christmas Reading Recommendations

There is something special about holiday traditions. Every year I watch A Christmas Story. I don't really watch it anymore, but rather listen to it on an endless loop while decorating or baking or wrapping presents. But nonetheless, the DVD is out every year.

The same applies to holiday books.

Every year, my mother would give me books for Christmas. Usually a book or two for my reading level, but I always received a beautifully illustrated hardcover children's book which had an inscription written in the front cover and dated. We follow the same tradition of books with Little Tomato.

Now entering the month of December, my favorite holiday books are making the scene. Reading by the fireplace is optional, however the hot cocoa is required:

Author- Lauren Thompson
Illustrator- Jon Muth
Image Credit: ziggityzoom

This book has become a new favorite around here. I am a sucker for anything illustrated by Jon Muth; not only do you have frame-worthy illustrations, but the stories are almost guaranteed to be spectacular.

Author- Kate DiCamillo
Illustrator- Bagram Ibatouilline
image credit:
Beautiful illustrations and a simple story of compassion and love for others.

Author- Susan Wojciechowski
Illustrator- PJ Lynch
image credit:

This is my favorite Christmas book of all time. If I could own only one Christmas book, this would be it.

A sad, reclusive woodcarver is visited by a widow and her son. They are new to the town, and she has realized that her family nativity set is gone. She asks the woodcarver to make her a new set before Christmas. He grumpily accepts the job, and is visited the following week by the widow and her son- the boy wants to watch him carve. As the woodcarver works, the boy teaches him about his nativity set- each figure and why it was special. Slowly, as each visit approaches, the woodcarver is softened by the kindness of the widow and the joy of the boy. The illustrations are warm and heartfelt and the story is lyrical and poignant.

My recommendation: Get an early edition! The newest edition has done a hatchet job on the illustrations, both shrinking and cropping them. I was beyond disappointed to see this. The 1995, 1998 and 2000 editions look to have the full sized illustrations.

Other noteworthy holiday reads:

Do you have any favorite Christmas books? 
Christmas Traditions?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Book Review: Press Here by Herve Tullet

Little Tomato has a new favorite book: "Press Here" by Herve Tullet.

The book starts with a simple yellow dot and the instructions, "Press Here." Each page instructs the reader to interact with the dots. Whether by pressing, rubbing, shaking or clapping, each action causes a reaction on the following pages. Little Tomato is squealing with glee at the end, as she is clapping as hard as she can.

Check out the video on Chronicle Books.

Note to parents: If your children have a hard time 'powering down' at night, this may not be good bedtime book material. It is by no means sleep-inducing.


Littlest Tomato

Nope, not a sister. Just this little doll I whipped up the other day.

Littlest Tomato

She has been complete for some time, but I was completely stuck on how to dress her. So, dejected, she has been moping about my sewing room willing me to 'clothe her in cuteness'. Finally inspiration struck in the unfortunate chocolate stain on a cute Little Tomato shirt. While the shirt was ruined, the soft jersey ruffles on the arms were pristine and just begging to be repurposed. So I grabbed the scissors and away I went! 

So, finally making her debut, Littlest Tomato! In her party dress and pigtails, she is ready for fabulousness. Her 'likes' are tea parties with all the girly trimmings, balloons, carousel rides, polaroid cameras, and Little Tomato. They're buds. :)

If you are interested in making your own, check out Wee Wonderfuls by Hillary Lang. It is a great resource with a variety of plush patterns, not just variations of the same doll. Littlest Tomato was constructed with similar techniques, but I created my own pattern for her. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hello Again

Apologies for the silent treatment from my corner of the blogosphere (yes, against my better judgement, I used the word 'blogosphere'). Truth is, it has been a chaotic 2011 with few crafty projects in the works. So, what has been keeping us so busy? Well...

We are moving.

To this:

A farm! 

The past several months have been full of planning, designing, preparing our house for sale, and of course the miserable summer heat wave that has plagued the midwest. While I will be sad to see our house go, as I am very fond of our home, I cannot wait to dig in the dirt and enjoy evenings of cool breezes and cicada songs from a screened in porch. 

A couple of projects I was able to squeeze in and some house sneak peeks are forthcoming. :)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Zoo Inspired Reading

Isabella the tiger cub at HDZ.
Hello Spring!

Little Tomato and I have been stretching our legs outside, enjoying the warm weather. 
This week we visited the zoo and of course we had to visit the tigers.
The zoo has a baby cub who steals the show with her bouncy play. 

However, Little Tomato's favorite animals to see are 'the monkeys.'
Specifically, the Siamang gibbons.
These gibbons are incredibly animated. Their voices can be heard from across the zoo in chorus with the peacock calls. 

At first glance, the Siamang looks like a normal 'monkey'... until it fills the giant pouch in its neck with air. It sounds like the low-key hum you hear when you blow over the neck of a bottle. Then comes the whooping calls and swinging about.

Little Tomato is enamored by them.

In the spirit of our zoo visit, I thought I would share some favorite zoo/ world animal inspired children's books:

Who is your favorite animal at the zoo?

What is your favorite zoo or animal story book?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Playroom Tour

Two long months later, the painting is finished! 
See this post for details of the design process.

Light paint + natural light = larger looking room.
I knew this, but it is still amazing how much of a difference it makes.

In case you are wondering: 
Not decals. 

Triangle & Ruler.
Painter's Tape.
Sharpie Paint Marker (if applicable).

Sketch out your design to scale. I did mine on the computer, but this can be hand drawn as well. As long as the design is to scale, it will keep proportions of the design accurate to your room.  

From your sketch, draw your design on the walls with a pencil. I used a triangle & a long 24" ruler to keep everything level and square. For the sun, I did the old-fashioned trick of a central point attached to string with a pencil at the end. I drew the largest radius first and shortened the string for the inner concentric circles.

Don't be afraid to improvise! 
If you notice gaps in the design, or you didn't account for that outlet (or wall base, or light switch, etc.), don't fret. That is why you start with the pencil (and a nice big eraser). 
I added a hot air balloon, relocated a car, added a van, and threw in an airplane.
And I like it better.

Once your drawing is complete, it is time to tape! 

For the non-square items (ex. hot air balloon, helicopter, vehicles, sun, etc.), I did not tape, but rather applied several coats very carefully with a steady hand. 
I used Frog Tape for this project, and while it was certainly not perfect, it did a much better job than anything I have used before.

I used the Sherwin Williams- Color to Go paint. This paint is about $5 for a quart.
I purchased 5 colors, so for this complete cityscape it was under $30.
And plenty left over for future projects.
(Imagine what this would be in decals...)

Plan on spending a lot of time on this kind of project.
As my colors were very saturated, I needed 2-3 coats + touch-ups after removal of tape.
I also did outlines of black using the Sharpie Paint Marker. It worked great.

There you have it.

Additional details:
Target Itso Bins. I used these for color inspiration (and storage).
I felt color was needed on the floor, but could not find any rugs that would coordinate.
So I got a few carpet tiles, cut into a pattern, and duct taped together on the underside.

The airplane banner:
Light grey felt fabric with thin strips of an accent green felt as piping on the top & bottom.
I used iron-on transfer paper to print the alphabet letters and ironed the letters onto the felt.
I adhered the banner to the wall with adhesive hanging strips (giving the banner a wave off the wall).

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Book Review: The Zoo by Suzy Lee

The Zoo by Suzy Lee
I am a big fan of Suzy Lee. Her books have few, if any, words, but convey stories exquisitely through the illustrations. Though I still feel that her book "Wave" will always be my favorite, The Zoo is another great Suzy Lee book.

Synopsis: A little girl goes on a trip to the zoo with her parents. The illustrations on these first pages are washed out grey tones as the girl visits empty cage after empty cage with her family... with the exception of a colorful peacock that catches the girl's attention. She absentmindedly wanders away from her family to follow the peacock, and as she does, the greyscale background of the empty zoo transitions into a vivid green one.

The following pages are a contrast between her parents search for the girl in the grey empty zoo and the girl's adventures in the colorful oasis of animals. "We watched the hippos in their pool," the book narrates, on a greyscale page where her parents are searching for her at the empty hippo pool. The following page shows the peacock leading the girl to a colorful pond with happy hippos and monkeys who have escaped their drab cages.

In the end, she is found by her parents asleep on a zoo bench. As the relieved parents carry the little girl home, you can see the animals in the background watching her go and, as she smiles at them, the book states, "I love the zoo. It is very exciting."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Ode to Cooking

Doesn't this just look delectable??

This Valentine's Day weekend I had a SPECTACULAR dinner made by the Fabulous Mr. Dish.  

Now, there is COOKING, and then there is the ART of cooking. 
This meal was MOMA material. 

To be honest, I don't remember the name of a single thing I ate; but I can tell you that I was beyond tempted to lick my plate. And the table decor? Yeah, that was the Fabulous Mrs. Dish. Tulips & roses, candles and crimson linens, French cuisine... Husband and I had a spectacular evening with spectacular friends.

All of which, but me, have the ability to cook.

Confession: I am an ABYSMAL cook.
I routinely microwave leftovers to a rubbery food-looking inedible mess. 
The oven and I have a little arrangement: As long as I clean it and otherwise leave it alone, it won't set off the smoke alarm on me.

A year into our relationship, I thought it would be a good idea to invite my now-husband over for a homemade meal- even though I was fully aware of my cooking abilities. I chose what seemed to be a simple cheesy chicken and rice dish and that evening he arrived to find a decorated table and dinner presented nicely on plates. We sat down to eat and as he put that first bite in his mouth I heard a loud CRUNCH. In all my cooking wisdom, I purchased the non-minute rice. As the cheesy chicken sauce was blended with the rice, this was not an easy fix. My poor date spent over an hour trying to salvage my disastrous cooking venture. Finally he turned to me, laughed, gave me a big hug, and said, "How about I order us a pizza?"

Bless his heart, nine years later, he still hides his trepidation every time I get that urge to cook something in the kitchen. 

Happy Valentines Day!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With Strings...

I typically don't make a big deal about Valentine's Day.

However, this year, inspired by this delicious twine (and needing a little break from painting), I sent a few valentines out to some special friends and family.

Brown paper packages tied up with strings.
Now for that silver white winter that melts into spring...

Friday, January 28, 2011

Book Review: Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch

Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch on Amazon

My favorite Valentine's Day read is "Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch" by Eileen Spinelli. The story was written in such a way that it is both simple and full of depth. The illustrations complement the story so well that I cannot imagine the story without them.


Mr. Hatch is a sad man. His story begins with a description of him,
"Mr. Hatch was tall and thin and he did not smile."
The story continues by describing his daily schedule, which never varies and is dull and grey. The illustrations that accompany this first part of the story are done in washed-out and grey tones which reflects the lack of color and light in his life.  (The character very much reminds me of Harold Crick in Stranger than Fiction, a delightful movie).

One day, Mr. Hatch receives an unexpected package from the postman. He opens the box to find a heart-shaped box of candy and a simple note attached: Somebody Loves You.

This small thing, a simple unexpected gift, makes Mr. Hatch smile. From here, color seeps into the pages of the book and Mr. Hatch's life.

I won't give away the ending of the book. But suffice to say, it will give you that 'warm fuzzy feeling' that Valentine's day is all about.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Another Little Project Gone Out of Hand...

As the cardboard house and Christmas present have shown, I tend to take a simple idea and go a little overboard with it. (Okay, let's be honest, way overboard).

This month's out-of-hand project was a complete redesign of the playroom.

As soon as she began walking, our daughter started taking over the living room. To contain the chaos in a room with a closable door, husband and I converted our office into a playroom. Which basically meant just taking our stuff out and putting her stuff in. Until recently the room donned blue-green walls and plain white curtains that the previous owners left to us. I have been itching to redo it for some time.

So... I thought the first step would be to upgrade the storage in the room; a small Rubbermaid tub as a toy-box and bookshelves is fine for a toddler with teething toys and blocks, but not-so-much for a little girl with art supplies, puzzles and dress up clothes.

When I realized that replacing storage in the room meant unscrewing the child safety straps holding bookshelves to the wall, I thought it was a great opportunity to spruce up the paint in the room. (You see where this is going- it is my own little "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" moment...)

Being the designer I am, I didn't feel just an accent wall would be fun enough for a play room. I mean, this was my opportunity to go crazy with a room! So I started playing with options in Photoshop. I drew my color palette from the Target Itso Polka Dot bins (love, love, love them), and my first renderings played with the idea of oversized dots on the wall.

Too plain.

Then I looked at some options of vinyl wall decals. When I saw this Ohdeeoh room tour with the city skyline, it reminded me how much I adore the illustrations of Laura Ljungvist.

I had my inspiration. 

Paint Swatches and Laura Ljungvist books.

I sketched up elevations of the walls and begin painting.

This is just a sneak-peek photo. I am still working on the long wall cityscape, and some finishing touches in other areas. To be continued!