Oct 03

Halloween Reads

FallFall is here! Sweater weather! Apple cider! Pumpkin cookies! Those of us lucky enough to be Pacific Northwesterners rejoice in the return of the crisp cool air and the rain pattering on the windowpane. At least three people complained to me about the continuation of summer weather well into September. Well, now it’s fall, and I had to defrost my car windows this morning.

October always sneaks up on me. It’s one of my favorite months – art projects galore! Whether it’s sewing costumes, carving jack-o-lanterns, or making ghostly garlands, I am in crafter’s heaven. The month is far too short to fit in all the things I want to do, and, curse you pinterest, I’m sure I could live to be 100 and still not get to all the amazing projects I might want to do.

One of the wonderful things about having kids is that I finally get to revel in Halloween again. Even if J won’t wear the halloween costume I spent hours hand-sewing for her (see previous posts on Cat-in-the-Hat Sally costume!), I still love the opportunity to expose her to new crafts and art projects. Halloween is all about creativity at this age. We won’t be into the real frights for a good many years, but fortunately there are a ton of great books that celebrate spooky playfulness without being scary. And we’re always looking for more recommendations! Here are a few that we love:

CREEPY CARROTS by Aaron Reynolds

Jasper rabbit loves to eat carrots, until the day the carrots followed him home. In this Hitchcock-inspired book, Jasper knows the carrots are out to get him. It’s not specifically Halloween, but the theme and color scheme fit perfectly.


Little witches go off to boarding school with a ghostly bus driver and eyeball stew for lunch. I especially like that the witches are brave and smart. It’s a good Mighty Girl book.

THE VANISHING PUMPKIN by Tony Johnston and Tomie dePaola

The kids love this silly story about a 800-year-old man and 700-year-old woman who bump into ghouls and varmints while searching for their missing pumpkin. My copy is autographed by Tomie dePaola. <3


Sheep dress up and go trick-or-treating at a neighboring barn before evading some wolves. As usual, Shaw’s rhyming prose is fun to read.



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Jul 16

Last Baby in the Woods

Summer is here: Blueberries by the bushel. Watermelon dripping down pudgy chins. Sticky popsicle fingers and backyard wading pools. Endless days, bedtime-less days, nowhere-to-go days. Beautiful boredom. And yet the days go fast. Sun up to sun down, we pack as much vitamin D as we can into our sun-starved skin, like squirrels hoarding nuts for the long winter. There is still no time to blog. Play dates and play grounds take precedence. We unpack from one camping trip only to pack up for the next.

TrailsIn the woods, we find the balm for our 21st-century tech-fattened souls. There is no internet. No smart phones, save for the camera feature. Just the crackle of the campfire. The rustle of fir needles overhead. The hum of the RVs a few campsites over. Laughter. Camp songs. Bird songs. The options are fewer. Simpler. S’mores and instant oatmeal and spaghetti. 

Getting Out is harder with babies. There is enough gear to make a simple trip to the park into a bulging-backpack outing. But the forest provides: sticks and pinecones make better play toys than wooden blocks and plastic rings. Dirt is for digging and tasting.

In the woods, children can be children: dirty, wild things. The way they were meant to be. We hike down the trail and identify trees. Mark off Bracken Fern and Huckleberry on our scavenger sheet. Search for animal tracks and scat. Wonder at the simplicity of a spider’s web. 

Clocks are not needed in the woods. There are no schedules. No errands to run. No buzz and beep of tech-overlords. 

In the woods, we find ourselves. We find each other. A dad. A mom. A big sister. A little brother. We are part of something grander. We stand beneath the towering old growth and try to memorize this feeling. The minutia of every day business will creep up again. School carpools and business trips and email and overcast and rain.

But now it’s summer, and there are tents to stake and trails to explore. Time is measured in the slow ripening of tomatoes in the pots out back, in the blooming of new flower bulbs, and the tinkling sound of The Entertainer drifting down the street like the Pied Piper’s tune.

I will count the summer by camping trips. I will mark the calendar by books read. I will find the perfect moment of absolute peace that comes from having nothing to do.

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Sep 10

Books for Mighty Girls

We’ve been hitting the library in search of books with kickass heroines, because Disney shouldn’t have a monopoly on roll models. AMIRITE? Anyway, we’ve found some fabulous narratives with the help of the website A Mighty Girl , which has lists of books featuring Independent Princesses and Mighty Girls of every ilk. So far we’ve loved Cinder Edna, The Apple-Pip Princess, and Dangerously Ever After. The Paper Bag Princess has long been one of my favorites. In addition to providing J brave, wise, self confident female characters to look up to, I’ve been getting ideas for picture books I want to write.
“But Ciara,” you say, “haven’t you been posting on your picture-books-in-progress?”
I’m completely sleep deprived and I have nursing brain. I can barely do the copy edits on the final novel I’m contracted for for my publisher in New York. I BARELY REMEMBER MY OWN NAME.
True story.
Eventually, friends, this blog will once again shine with writing awesomeness. Until then, picture me reading.


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Jul 03

In the southwest making notes on a new book

I turned in my final contracted book and am free to make real strides on a picture book! Unfortunately, the baby has decided to nurse every two hours around the clock. I’m not sure if it’s the heat or the humidity here in the southwest, but I really hope he’ll stop when we get home to Seattle. My inlaws have a lovely patio backyard where we can sit and watch the lizards dart around. I was reminded of a story called “Lizard’s Rock” that my uncle used to tell, and decided to retell it set here in on the patio with a local lizard and J instead of the bear. Here’s my first brainstorm.




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Jun 20

First pass on climbing illustrations

Little brother and his fiancée have finalized the alphabet list for our first picture book collaboration. Now I need to figure out my style and get drawing. Here is my very first attempt. I’m not sure if I’ll try to color them in on the computer or by hand. I need to take a photoshop class.


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Jun 13

Awesome new storytelling board game

Teaching kids to tell stories by combining heroes, rivals, transportation, magic objects, helpers, places and treasures. Joseph Campbell, eat your heart out!

Fairytale Spinner Game by Lizzy Rockwell


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May 31

Sketches for new picture book




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Jan 15

Knitting: Pink I heart Cables Hat

I took J to the yarn store a few months ago to pick out a new project. She gravitated immediately to the bubble gum pink Cascade Superwash 220, no surprise there, and after perusing Ravelry, I found a free cabled hat pattern to make out of it. She is in a phase where she doesn’t want to wear anything that’s not pink.

That thong th thong thong thong. Or earflap.

“Actually,” she says if you suggest an alternative hue, “pink is my favorite color.”

I used to be staunchly anti-pink. I’ve learned my avoidance of the color is just as silly as wanting to wear only that color. It’s a color, not an anti-feminist doctrine.

“Your favorite color is pink,” J said to me the other day.

“No, actually I like blue.”

“It is! You have a pink book and a pink cover!”

I opened my mouth. Shut it. Logic. “You’re right, kid. You have me there.” We discussed that one did not always have to wear one’s favorite color. Or release books in one’s favorite color, for that matter. Sometimes it’s good to change it up. For instance, mommy’s first book was blue.

So anyway, since J also likes to strip off her warm clothes and we are deep in the throes of winter, I decided to go pink, pink, pink to try to get her to wear coats, hats, and mittens. It’s working. Mostly. I also hoped that if she picked out the yarn she might deign to wear the hat (unlike the sweaters I knit!). She’s already worn it a few times, so I count that a success!

getting ready to riiiiiiiiip

I had some troubles not keeping close track of where I was in the pattern, so I had to rip half of it out. Twice. As my grandmother used to say, “As ye knit, so shall ye rip.” It was painful, but this happens to me a lot. I lose track of what row I’m knitting, and before I know it, I have to unknit hours of work. Knitting is very meditative until that point.


The pattern itself was fairly easy, if you are familiar with cables and double pointed needles. The only thing left to do is make pompoms for the top and tassels. Voila! A hat to keep off the bitter frost in splendid fashion.




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Dec 18

Christmas Tree Star tutorial

Last week we got our Christmas tree from Boy Scout Troop 100, as my parents have done for years before me. Prince Charming and I will have been married for nine years come New Year’s Eve, but we’ve only been putting up a tree since we moved back to Seattle. It’s one of those traditions that I love, but that twenty-somethings-living-in-apartments rarely do. Fortunately we inherited two boxes of ornaments from Ryan’s childhood, so we were all set once we decided to deck our own halls. One thing missing was a tree topper. When I draw Christmas trees, I’ve always drawn a yellow star on top. The ornaments and lights change, but the star has always been the crowning jewel, despite not having one in real life. With a little felt, stuffing, and yarn, my Christmas tree is now perfect.

One of the coolest things about holidays year is that J is old enough to participate. We’ve had great fun introducing her to Saint Lucia, Frosty the Snowman, creches, Christmas lights, and eggnog. She really enjoyed picking out and decorating the tree with us, and begged for her own tree in her room.

J: Daddy, I want a pink tree!
Daddy: Anything you want, Princess.
Me: And next he’ll buy you a pony!

Ryan’s brother was in town for the week, and he helped J decorate her tree pink, as requested. I made a tree topper for her too, pink, of course. I like to make things up as a go along. Here it is, my first tutorial. Please comment if you have questions.

Christmas Tree Star Tutorial


  • yellow felt (or pink)
  • spare yarn (or thick tapestry thread)
  • tapestry needle
  • cotton batting


  1. Take two equal sized pieces of felt and fold in half.
  2. Trace half a star along the fold, so that when it is unfolded you will have two identical symmetrical stars. You can be a perfectionist about this and make each star point the same size, but I think a little asymmetry looks better for this kind of ornament.
  3. Cut out your 2 felt stars.
  4. Thread your tapestry needle.
  5. Sew stars together, making each stitch about 1/4 inch. I looped around the outside edge every other stitch: over, under, out and back through same hole; over, under, out; repeat. Make sure you leave enough space at the bottom for a hole to a) stuff and b) fit on the top tree branch.
  6. When you’ve gone all the way around the star once, turn around and fill in the remaining stitches (over, under, over, under) back through your same stitch holes. Don’t forget to leave enough room for the tree to fit in the center hole at the bottom of the star! See below: first round of stitches completed on the top half of the star, second round filling in on the bottom half of star.
  7. Secure end of yarn with a knot inside the star and cut.
  8. Stuff cotton batting into star, leaving some room for the tree top.
  9. Top your tree. Voila!

Happy Holidays!




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Dec 01

Cat in the Hat: Felt, poster board, and hot glue

Hellllloooooooo! Despite my promises of crafty goodness on this revamped blog, I didn’t get my contracted book done until yesterday. But now it’s IN. DONE. OFF to New York, and I am FREEEEEEEEEEEEEE. At least for a little while. Tootles’ due date is fast approaching, and there are still preschool applications that won’t write themselves (not to mention revisions, copy edits, and page proofs for book 3!). But I promise to get in a few updated craft projects before I go dark with the new baby, and I’ll start with one of my favorite craft holidays: Halloween.

In October we took J to see the Cat in the Hat at the Seattle Children’s Theater, which she loved. It’s a strange story, certainly not one of my favorite of Seuss’s, but I think the magic of theater won J over and she was hooked. She asked repeatedly for the story of how we went to the theater and saw the Cat in the Hat, and when it came time to talk about Halloween, she was certain who she wanted to be: Sally. Now Sally is a) literary and b) unique, so you know I was thrilled to make her a Sally costume. (Search for Sally costumes, and you’ll only come up with the rag doll from the Night Before Christmas. Search for Cat in the Hat costumes, and you’ll only find the Cat or Thing 1 and Thing 2.) I didn’t have much time, because I was desperately trying to finish aforementioned book, but I gave it my best shot.

All you really need for a costume are poster board, felt, and hot glue. Ryan was going to be the Cat in the Hat; J, Sally; and I, the fish, with the bowl around my ever increasing belly.

Cat in the Hat hat, for Daddy:

Step 1: Measure Daddy’s head using one of his real hats and roll poster board to the correct circumference. Glue along seam.

Step 2: Measure and mark one inch or so all around the edge where the stovepipe will meet the brim, and cut many tabs up to this line. Fold little tabs over. These will glue to the brim.


Step 2: Cut a large oval the correct size for the brim. I used a cowboy hat of Ryan’s as a model. Trace circumference of stovepipe in center of brim oval, and cut out middle. Put brim around stovepipe. Once you cut the tabs all around the base of the stovepipe, fold up and glue to bottom of brim.

Step 3: Trace top of stovepipe onto another piece of poster board and cut out, making sure you leave enough extra board all around the edge to make more tabs. Cut even tabs, fold down, and glue to stovepipe. (Alternately, you could cut the tabs from the stovepipe and glue them to the top oval.)

Step 4: Cut out felt in red and white strips. Glue them on in alternating stripes. Cut out brim and top out of white felt, and glue to poster board.

Step 5: Once the glue dries, you are done. Try it on your model. Revel in your awesomeness.

Mr. Stewart’s costume also involved a red bow around his neck. I planned for him to be able to wear jeans and a tee shirt, so that he would feel comfortable in costume. One needs no extra frills to be the Cat in the Hat: the hat says it all. However, if you had a model who wanted to get really into character, you could have him carry a rake, pink cake (more poster board and felt!), and some books.

Tomorrow: Sally.


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