Too Darn Cute

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Five Books to Read this Halloween

There are hundreds of Halloween stories out there, maybe even thousands. To help you sift through some of the lame ones to find the real treasures, I wanted to share five of my favorites with you today. Since most of the books I read these days were written for people who can't tie their own shoes, you'll probably appreciate this list most if you have children. But even if you don't, I'm confident you'll find something on here to add to your Goodreads list. So without further ado, here is my list of five books you must read this Halloween. And please leave a comment and let me know one of your favorite spooky stories. I need to start my list for next year!

1. Goodnight Goon
Written and Illustrated by Michael Rex

This "Petrifying Parody" of Margaret Wise Brown's classic Goodnight Moon is a must-read this Halloween! Inside the cold gray tomb, we watch as a werewolf tries to go to bed while a naughty goon comes and terrorizes his room. You'll find the same catchy rhythm as the original but with "a skull and a shoe and a pot full of goo" and lots of other hilariously Halloween-themed rhymes. No matter how many times you've read Goodnight Moon (in fact, the more the better), you'll certainly enjoy this silly version of the story.

2. Go Away, Big Green Monster!
by Ed Emberley

This is absolutely Leo's favorite story in the bunch. We've been reading it at least one time for every nap and every bedtime story (and usually a few times in between) since we checked it out from the library. This is a simple picture book that uses creative cutouts to build the Big Green Monster one feature at a time. But just as the monster reaches its scariest form, the reader declares that, "You don't scare me!" and the monster disappears just as quickly as he came.

I think his favorite part is the very last page that tells the monster, "and don't come back! ...Until I say so." He giggles every time. You should definitely check this one out for your favorite toddler!

3. Creepy Carrots!
Written by Aaron Reynolds
Illustrated by Peter Brown

Jasper Rabbit is the hungry main character in this story. He is passionate about carrots and loves to snatch up a couple for snacking whenever he passes through his favorite field. That is, until he starts getting the feeling those carrots are haunting him. He starts to see them everywhere and they are really creeping him out. He finally comes up with a plan that he thinks will stop those carrots from scaring him.

This one was a Caldecott Honor Book in 2013, so you know it's going to be just as fun to look at as it is to read. The illustrations are all done in black and white - and orange. The pops of orange make sure the reader thinks Jasper is just as crazy as he sounds. The text is simple, it's a quick read, and the pictures are engaging, which make this one a great story to share with your little ones. Especially if they like slightly weird, scary stories. But don't worry, this picture book parable has a happy ending.

4. The Graveyard Book
Written by Neil Gaiman

This is the story of Bod Owens, short for Nobody, who was adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Owens. He is a mostly normal boy except that he lives in a graveyard and his adopted parents are ghosts. Because of his unique situation, Bod is given the "Freedom of the Graveyard," which means he can walk through walls and graves and is invisible to most humans while he's in the graveyard. And he's supposed to stay in the graveyard. But Bod doesn't always follow that rule so we get to follow Bod through many of his adventures as he learns about his mysterious beginnings, explores the strange world around him, and faces the villain that has been haunting him his entire life.

Both children and adults will love this uniquely spooky Newbery Medal-winning novel. There's something so sacred and alluring about a graveyard. While I enjoy imagining the people connected to the names found on tombstones, I've never imagined growing up in one! In Gaiman's story, you'll find ghosts, witches, ghouls, werewolves, and other mysterious creatures, but sometimes it's the regular old humans who are meaner and uglier. This is an adventure, a mystery, and a coming of age story all in one. Gaiman's magical writing and curious characters make this one a page-turner and a story that would be a lot of fun to read together with your slightly older kiddos or even your spouse this Halloween.

5. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
Written by Mary Roach

When my 5th graders decided to keep a praying mantis as a class pet, I obligingly bought a bag of crickets each week to feed it. Although it was so disgusting, my eyes were glued to the cage every time "Gilbert" carefully watched its prey, snatched it with incredible speed, and then furiously ate the cricket. It was so gross and fascinating! Reading Stiff is a little bit like that. Mary Roach shares all kinds of horrifying ways cadavers have been used (and obtained) throughout history. But she weaves those facts with tons of interesting information about the helpful ways cadavers have contributed to our history as well. While some bodies are used in anatomy labs for future doctors and helped with new surgical procedures, Roach explores some lesser-known uses for cadavers as well: helping scientists study decomposition in order to pinpoint time of death and other crime scene investigation techniques, helping car manufacturers design safety features to save lives, and even helping plastic surgeons practice and perfect their facelift skills.

With so many unknowns about our life after death, it's fascinating to read about all the things we have learned about our bodies after death. And although it's a book with a morbid subject, it's anything but a somber story. Roach skillfully weaves respect and even humor into a book that might easily become depressing. It is a gripping novel that will teach you, disgust you, and amuse you all at the same time. What better way to celebrate the Day of the Dead?

Friday, October 3, 2014

A Pinocchio Halloween

I love Halloween! It's my favorite holiday. I usually feel slightly guilty for saying that because it's obviously not as meaningful as Christmas, Easter, or Thanksgiving. It doesn't have a rich, patriotic history like Independence Day. It doesn't even cause you to reflect and set new goals like New Year's Day. But I can't help it. It's my favorite. There's just something about pumpkin cookies and spooky decorations that gets me really excited. And the costumes! I love a good reason to get creative and dress up. Halloween is the perfect time to dress up and play pretend all day long. And if you've got kids, you can dress them up HOWEVER YOU WANT! I've decided I really need to maximize on the years when I get to choose my children's costumes.

See? Halloween decorations are SO CUTE!

Last year I spent WAY too long browsing blogs and Pinterest for costume ideas but finally settled on a Pinocchio theme. It was just way too cute. It turned out to be quite the project to make his little costume, but it turned out so great. My two main inspirations came from For the Good Days (who breaks down each part of the costume) and Crafting Zuzzy (who helped me make the killer shorts and suspenders).

I'm glad he was as excited about his costume as I was

I like to call this my Goldilocks costume because the shorts took me three tries. I used her free pattern and the first pair were way too small. I tried to adapt the pattern on my own and the second pair came out way too big. I adjusted the pattern again and the third pair came out just right. It was a lot of work, y'all! She has updated her blog and you can now purchase some updated patterns and it might really be worth it!

I added some cool ribbon to the sides of the shorts to make them a bit more like Pinocchio's shorts and loved that it made them more authentic. A couple of large wooden buttons really completed the look.

I used an old white shirt for the collar and followed For the Good Days' DIY description. It took a little fiddling to get the sizing just right, but was pretty simple to sew. I've made lots of little boy bow ties and for the Pinocchio costume, I just made an extra large bow tie. I added some snaps to the collar and tie so I could just snap it on or slip it over his head. I found the yellow onesie for a few bucks at H&M.

The hat was definitely a little tricky. I looked at lots of pictures and costumes before drawing up my own pattern on some yellow felt and playing around with it until I came up with a shape I was happy with. I added some blue ribbon with hot glue and stuck in a single red feather.

I love a good theme so of course we had to play along. Jacob was a good trooper and let me dress him as Jiminy Cricket and I went as the Blue Fairy.

"I dub you Pinocchio's conscience, lord high keeper of the knowledge of right and wrong, counselor in moments of high temptation, and guide along the straight and narrow path. Arise, Sir Jiminy Cricket." It seemed appropriate that Pinocchio's father should be Jiminy.

"Prove yourself brave, truthful, and unselfish, and someday, you will be a real boy."
-The Blue Fairy

Our costumes were pretty easy. I had made Jacob's pants a couple years ago for a 20's costume party and he already owned the socks, shirt, tie, and sweater. I sewed a very basic yellow vest (since it wouldn't show much) and hot glued some yellow ribbon on a blue top hat I bought at a Halloween store. I still had this amazing blue dress that I found at DI for a 70's party years ago. I knew it would come in handy again and I'm sure glad I held onto it. I bought the wings on clearance at Joann Fabrics and just added a blue headband.

"What are conscience! I'll tell ya! A conscience is that still, small voice that people
won't listen to. That's just the trouble with the world today..." -Jiminy Cricket

Everything came together so well! Pinocchio is a classic character, but not done very often. And it sure made a cute costume for my happy little guy!

Curious to know what we're doing for Halloween this year? I've got something great up my sleeve, so stay tuned to find out what happens!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Written and Illustrated by Keith Baker

From acrobats, artists, and astronauts all the way to zoologists, the little green peas in this story introduce themselves one letter at a time. The big, bright letters on each page are accompanied by cute round peas with arms, legs, and costumes that show us what they do best. It's filled with alliteration (which I love!) and great rhyming and rhythm that bounces through the pages.

This is a unique book that shows off some words you don't find in a typical ABC book for children - words like electricians, investigators, and parachutists. There is a wide variety of jobs, hobbies, and interests included, so everyone can find something with which they identify. It's snappy, fun to read, and more interesting than many of the other ABC books I have read to my little guy. Though he's not quite old enough to recite his ABCs yet, it won't be long until he can appreciate this one more fully!

Fun Fact! I learned a new word while looking up some info and pictures for this book! It's a cool one too: An abecedarian (noun, pronounced ay-bee-see-dair-ee-uhn) is a person who is learning the alphabet, or a beginner in any field of learning. It can also be an adjective describing something pertaining to the alphabet or something arranged in alphabetical order. For example, "This abecedarian book shows little green peas doing a variety of jobs to help abecedarians practice each letter of the alphabet."

This would be a great story to share with a classroom! Although its target audience is probably the younger grades, I had a few fun ideas for activities to help you use it in both younger and older elementary grades that I think all will enjoy.

First Day of School (older grades)
After introducing themselves, the story ends with the peas asking, "Who are you?" I was always looking for fun new ways to get students to introduce themselves during the first week of school. I love that the peas in this story introduce so many different roles. There are very specialized occupations like farmers and vets, but there are also many everyday activities, like listeners and readers, that many of us would use to describe ourselves. It would be so fun to see what the kids could come up with to describe themselves. Ask them to list the alphabet vertically on a piece of paper and give them enough time to think through each letter of the alphabet and come up with at least one role for each letter that describes them. They can be as serious as "painters" or as silly as "gigglers." Encourage them to be creative!

Jobs (younger grades)
Younger elementary grades often spend time discussing different roles of members in a community. In Utah, I know first graders identify roles of people in school and in the neighborhood. LMNO Peas can be a fun book to use in a lesson about identifying jobs. As you reread the story with the class, ask them which of these roles they can find in school? Which can be found in their community? Are any of them found in both? You could also make a class list of jobs not included in the book. I'm sure the students will have lots of ideas to contribute to your list.

Career Day
If you have a career day in your classroom, this would be a great story to share with them on that day or as an introduction to the special day. Invite students to dress up in the "uniform" of whatever they want to be when they grow up. Each student could draw his own picture of a pea as someone that he wants to become (or assign each student a different letter of the alphabet and ask them to illustrate one job for that letter). I love the diversity of jobs in the book and the idea of exposing students to careers they've never considered.

If you enjoy this one, be sure to check out Baker's other pea-inspired stories, 1-2-3 Peas (all about numbers) and Little Green Peas (all about colors).

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Fool's Day Cupcakes

Though I'm hardly a prankster, I definitely enjoy a well-played joke every once in a while. April Fool's Day can be a fun day to plan and carry out such a prank. One of my favorite memories of growing up is an April Fool's Day when I taped the sink sprayer "on" so that when someone turned the sink on, it would spray water all over them. My Dad thought it was pretty hilarious, too... And there was the classic prank I think someone in my family tried every year where you put a few drops of food coloring on a new stick of gum and let it dry. After carefully putting it back its foil wrapper, you casually offer your victim a stick of gum. When they start to chew it up (if they don't notice the drops of dye), their unsuspecting mouth would soon turn blue! Oh, those were good times.

I'm excited to start trying silly little pranks on my kids, but my little one is still too young to appreciate the humor. So instead, last year I pulled this one on my husband. I don't think he minded too much.

I also made these adorable TV Dinner cupcakes! We put a bunch in a big pot, put the lid on, and went to "deliver dinner" to a few of our friends. We told them there was a sign-up sheet passed around church that week to bring them dinner (which is often done for new mothers or other families in need of a meal, so it was plausible). It was so funny to watch their reactions of confusion or panic as they had already started to get dinner ready for the night. Ha! My husband is not a very good liar, so I got to do most of the talking...

They were really fun to make and only need a few special ingredients. A few notes:

  • The "Peas and Carrots" cupcake looks best if you cover it completely (instead of leaving spaces in between the candies like I did). I used cut up orange Starburst for the carrots and green skittles for the peas. It's really hard to get enough green skittles to cover several cupcakes because there are only so many in a package. You could also use runts, M&Ms, or any other green hard candy.
  • The "Mashed Potato" cupcake is probably my favorite. It's just white frosting piled high with a small well on the top. Drizzle caramel sauce on top for the gravy and plop a yellow Starburst in the middle as a pat of butter. Although it looks a little chewed, the secret to the butter is putting the Starburst in the microwave for a few seconds to soften up the corners a bit. Isn't it so cute?
  • The "Chicken Leg" cupcakes take a little more work because you have to make the bones out of melted white chocolate, form it into a bone shape on wax paper, and stick them in the freezer for a few minutes. The cupcake is yummy covered in frosting and dipped in crushed up graham cracker crumbs.
  • The "Dessert" cupcake is pretty self-explanatory. And very delicious. 

Did you pull any pranks this year? What are some of your favorite ones from past years? I'm always looking for fun new ideas to try!

Inspiration from Our Best Bites and Delectable Edibles: Check out their websites for more instructions and pictures. They also have some cute ideas for other foody cupcakes (I LOVE the spaghetti and meatballs!).

Sunday, March 30, 2014


Written by Carl Hiaasen
Ages: 10-14

Roy Eberhardt just moved to Coconut Cove, Florida. He doesn't have any close friends in his new middle school, but he does have a bully. While trying to stand up for himself without getting beat up too badly, Roy becomes captivated with a mysterious, barefooted boy he sees running by the school bus one day. When Roy meets the mysterious boy and his bully-defeating sister Beatrice, the unlikely group of friends tries to stop Mother Paula's All-American Pancake House from building a new restaurant in Coconut Cove. The new restaurant would destroy a colony of borrowing owls, so Roy battles with issues of right and wrong and he tries to figure out what to do.

This is a fun story filled with interesting characters (both children and adults) that I think children will enjoy. Though I didn't love the book, it was enjoyable and there are several reasons I would keep this one in my classroom. There are so many things about the story that children can relate to that finding connections will likely be easy for any student. It connects well with curriculum taught in the classroom, so it would make a great literature circle novel, class novel, or read aloud. Hiaasen includes lots of humor in his story and provides enough mystery that kids will enjoy reading and want to keep reading to find out what happens. Here are a few ways you could use it in the classroom:

There are several cross-curriculum connections between this book and science. It's a great one for connecting with the science content I taught in a 4th grade Utah classroom, and I would suppose the core standards are similar for 4th-graders in other states (they are in Pennsylvania!). While I wouldn't use the novel to teach the content, it provides a great support to concepts that have been taught. Here are some things I would want to connect the novel to:

  • Animal classification: There are quite a few animals mentioned and described in Hoot. My 4th graders and I spent a lot of time talking about and looking at the different classifications of animals (amphibians, reptiles, mammals, etc), so this would be a fun way to review those classifications by identifying the groups of the animals mentioned in the book. Some of the animals in Hoot are burrowing owls, osprey, tarpons, white herons, alligators, blue crabs, mullet, and cottonmouth water moccasins.
  • Environment: We also spent a good chunk of time learning about the desert environment of Utah and the plants and animals that exist in that climate. Hoot is set in Florida, which has a very different climate than Utah. It would be fun to compare and contrast the two environments (or wherever you teach) and identify which type of environment is found in Florida.
  • Plant and animal adaptations (or characteristics that plants and animals have that help them survive in their environment) were a fun part of the 4th grade curriculum. While reading, I would review this concept with the class and talk about some of the adaptations of the animals found in Hoot, such as Borrowing Owls.
  • Changes in habitat: A big theme of the story is how the building of a new business will affect the habitat of Burrowing Owls. I would definitely use this to ask students to predict how the changes proposed in the book would affect the animals and how the animals might react if they are made. 

Persuasive Writing
While this was a really big deal for the 5th graders in Utah, we started learning about and practicing persuasive writing in 4th grade, too. This is a fun novel to connect to writing because it brings up a great topic students can think about and respond to. Here are a few ideas:
  • Discuss how Mullet Fingers, Beatrice, and Roy tried to persuade Mother Paula's to stop building a new pancake house on the empty property. List the things they tried. Why do you think those things worked or didn't work?
  • Choose a side: Do you think Mother Paula's should be allowed to build a new pancake house? Write a 5-paragraph essay to express your opinion and convince your reader to agree with you.
    • *We expected our 5th-graders to write a well-thought out five paragraph essay to back up their position. Depending on the age you teach, that can be adapted. Younger students may be asked to make a list of reasons they think one way or the other. 

I would definitely keep this one in mind and put it on a list of recommended books for students. Whether used with the whole class or read by an individual, I think any student will get a "hoot" out of this one!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Washington, D.C.

What did you do during spring break this year? Oh, you didn't get one? You were too busy working? I guess this is one of the few perks of being a student (again). This time, at a school that believes (like most of the rest of the country) in a spring break. It was so nice to have my husband around all week to play and relax (and do some chores). We wanted to take advantage of the few days we had to visit one of the many exciting places that is only a few hours away from us. Washington, D.C. is less than four hours from us and we had such a fun weekend exploring, playing, and eating. Having friends and family from the area definitely paid off because we got some killer recommendations on what how to best use our time there, which was still far too short to do everything we would have liked to.

Our first day we spent eating lunch at Cava Mezze Grill, visiting the Holocaust Museum, checking out the White House (and a few other cool buildings nearby), and eating dinner at a cute little old-fashioned hamburger joint called Ollie's Trolley. By the time we got back to the hotel we were exhausted so we knew it had been a successful day. Here's a little bit of what our day looked like:

The Holocaust Museum is a must-see. It is informative and eye-opening. Though it's not exactly kid-friendly (there's a lot of reading and some fairly graphic pictures/videos), I highly recommend spending a few hours here if you visit. You will not be disappointed.

You can't really see it, but I made him wear his USA
shirt to show our patriotism while at the capital!

He loves to point at things and people as we walk by.

Cutest boy ever!

Washington Monument

We wore this poor boy out after visiting the museum.
Those of you that know him, know that he NEVER falls
asleep anywhere other than his bed or the car (if he's
REALLY tired), so he must have been exhausted!

While trying to walk to the White House, we accidentally went to the back
first. Oops. But then we saw a couple of guys dressed in black walking all
over the roof and looking through a telescope. I'm pretty sure they were spies.

Can you see the spies on the roof?

Then we finally made our way to the front of the White House.

Just to prove that he was there. Ha!

Jacob kept telling me I didn't look excited enough...

The Treasury Department

I'm actually not sure what this is, but I thought
it was a really pretty building/clock.

"Fishing for fries"

He's becoming a real pro at drinking with straws.
I'm not sure why, but I think it's so cute!
When did he get to be such a big boy?

Our second day was spent spying the Capitol Building, touring the Smithsonian Museum of American History, visiting the temple, and enjoying dinner at Cafe Deluxe with dessert at Georgetown Cupcakes. The museum was fun and there was just too much to see to do it at once. My favorite parts were Julia Child's kitchen (her actual kitchen, just as she used it) and the exhibit showing the inaugural gowns of the first ladies. It was a gorgeous day and we really enjoyed the warmer weather and blue skies as we walked around the city. Our day kind of looked like this:

Capitol Building

Seriously, do kids come any cuter than this?

It was such a beautiful day! 

Ready for dinner!

Trying out coloring for the first time

Shaved Prime Rib

Croque Monsieur with Tomato Soup

Time for dessert as the sun sets

So many to choose from and they all looked SO GOOD!

Key Lime, Chocolate², and Cookies and Cream: Unfortunately Leo had to
go to bed before cupcake time. But don't worry, we ate his for him.

Our last morning we slept in, went swimming in the hotel pool (and hot tub), and were super excited to go to church at the local French-speaking ward. We were sorely disappointed when we showed up and were the only car there. We think they had stake conference this weekend. Bummer! At least we got to try some delicious kebabs from Moby Dick's for lunch! As you've probably noticed, our vacations tend to center around good food and boy, did we have some yummy meals in DC!

Leo loved the pool. We will definitely
have to visit often this summer!

Modeling his cute French-style swimsuit

Something about the hotel room made Leo want
to start cruising around. He was really excited to
be walking for the first time!

We had a blast visiting DC! There is really so much to see and do that a couple of days just doesn't do it justice. I'm looking forward to our next visit!