Category Archives: Books

A Fancy Nancy Birthday Party – Planning Ideas on a Budget

Fancy Nancy Birthday Party Ideas on a Budget

When Caroline turned six, she had her first “real” birthday party. We’ve always celebrated her birthday each year with grandparents and other relatives, but she’s never had an invite little girls over with decorations and party favors type party before.

We decided on a Fancy Nancy theme for a few reasons. One, Fancy Nancy was all the rage in our home. Caroline absolutely loves all of the Fancy Nancy books and now incorporates many of the common phrases into her everyday conversation. Yes, we hear “Ooh la la!” quite often around here! Caroline is also all about pink and purple so Nancy is a true kindred spirit! :-)

Two, I thought Fancy Nancy was a theme that lent itself well to easily decorating and planning. I’m not incredibly gifted when it comes to this type of thing, but when I started finding ideas online, I knew this was something I could pull off.

And, third, after looking around online I thought this was a theme that could be done with a reasonable budget. There are so many amazing Fancy Nancy parties online that it can almost become overwhelming. I can’t even imagine how much some of the moms spent for their parties! But I looked on each website for an idea I could adapt to our needs and budget.

Having a graphic designer for a husband was a major plus in this case. Caroline and I brainstormed how the invitations should look and went shopping at the mega scrapbooking store for paper/cardstock. I gave David the directions for the written part of the invitations and he created them for me. We embellished them with jewels and ribbon and mounted them on a sparkly paper. They turned out beautifully. (Click on any picture.)

Fancy Nancy Party Invitation

David also designed all the name cards, tags for the goody bags, and other materials which we printed ourselves. We mounted the place cards on sparkly purple cardstock.

Fancy Nancy Party Place Card

When the girls arrived, they had the opportunity to deck themselves out in fancy items such as rings, tiaras, sunglasses, boas and necklaces…

Fancy Nancy Party Dress Up Wands, Sunglasses, Rings, Tiaras

For treats we had an ice cream parfait station…

Fancy Nancy Ice Cream Parfait Stations

Decorate your own cupcake (because it is fun and much cheaper than a fancy cake)…

Fancy Nancy Party Decorate Cupcakes

And other assorted treats…

Fancy Nancy Birthday Party Decorations

We read the story aloud, played a couple of simple games, did a pinata outside, and opened gifts. The girls also had time to play outside which I think they enjoyed. Caroline asked for some play time rather than having every minute scheduled and a few of the moms told me it was nice to have that instead of feeling like you are trying to rush the children through everything planned. I made these bags for them to put their pinata candy in. :-)

Fancy Nancy Birthday Party Treat Bag

When the girls left, they received a pink polka dot goody bag to fill with many fancy items such as nail polish, lip balm, erasers that looked like desserts, bubbles, bracelets, etc.

Fancy Nancy Birthday Party Favors

I was really blessed to find so many things on clearance at Target and in the party supplies section of Hobby Lobby, Meijer and Dollar Tree. I hit Target at just the right time as they were clearancing a bunch of purple and pink party decor items that I got very inexpensively. The same thing with the polka dot bags! I did order a few things from Amazon (where they have a lot of Fancy Nancy Party Ideas), but it was easy to find lots of fancy things here and there around town.

All in all it was a lovely day. Caroline had a wonderful time and we made a beautiful memory for her. It was a lot of work in terms of all the little details, but the thank yous I got over and over again made it all worth it. :-)

Fancy Nancy Birthday Party Planning on a Budget

Posted in Books, Caroline, Family and Parenting, Living Simply and Frugally | Leave a comment

iBlog Pro – Take your blog to the next level with this ebook


If you are a blogger and want to take your website to the next level, I highly recommend iBlog Pro. This ebook is FULL of excellent information from experienced bloggers. I personally contributed the chapter “Setting Up Your Blog for Passive Income,” a topic near and dear to my heart!

The major sections all have several chapters in them. The sections include:

  • Revenue and Products
  • Ebooks
  • Social Media
  • Technology and Tools
  • Productivity
  • Conferences
  • Writing

iBlogPro is full of great information. Affiliates, how to write and market an ebook… Just lots and lots of practical information from women who are living it every day.

Click here to view more details and purchase iBlog Pro!

iblog pro double image

Posted in Books, Home Education/Homeschooling, Product Reviews, Working from Home | Leave a comment

A Family for Old Mill Farm

A Family for Old Mill Farm

I happened across A Family for Old Mill Farm at a children’s bookstore a few years ago. I immediately bought it because it spoke to me. We were also looking for a house and I could relate to the search this family was going through. We didn’t end up buying a farm, but I understood the mission to find the home that is just right for your family.

This is a delightful story of two realtors showing families prospective houses. One is a raccoon (showing various animal families) and the other is a human (showing the human family). The human family visits a wide variety of houses in different locations before finding Old Mill Farm just perfect for their growing family.

A sweet book that I think would appeal to many families, especially those who have the longing to find that perfect little place to live and grow. I’m sharing it because I saw on Amazon it is going out of print and is marked down. This would be a good time to grab a copy to enjoy with your littles (or just dream about on your own). :-)


Posted in Books, Learning and Homeschooling, Product Reviews | Leave a comment

Children’s Picture Books That Teach Courage

Children's Picture Books That Teach Courage

Stories are a powerful medium for teaching children important character traits. A well-written story brings the trait to life in a meaningful and memorable way. Here are three of my favorite children’s picture books that demonstrate the character trait of courage: The Empty Pot, When Jessie Came Across the Sea, and Brave Irene.

The Empty Pot
The Empty Pot by Demi is a beautifully illustrated tale of a little boy named Ping. The Emperor has decided to choose his successor and announces that the flowers will do the choosing. He gives a special seed to every child in the kingdom who wishes to have one. They must care for the seed for a year and bring back their best at the end of the year. Whoever grows the most beautiful flower will be chosen by the Emperor to succeed him.

Ping receives his seed and cares for it throughout the entire year. When he plants it and nothing happens, he replants it in a bigger pot with better soil. And still nothing happens. When the time comes to bring his plant to the Emperor, he is embarrassed to bring his empty pot when all of the other children have amazingly beautiful plants to present. When the Emperor asks Ping why he brought an empty pot to him, Ping tells the truth that nothing would grow from the seed he received. The Emperor then declares that he has found the one person worthy of being Emperor. No one knew that the seeds had all been boiled and could not possibly grow. Ping was the only one with the courage to tell the truth and is rewarded with the honor of becoming Emperor.

When Jessie Came Across the Sea
When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest and ilustrated by P.J. Lynch is the lavishly illustrated story of one girl’s experience of immigrating to the United States to New York City’s Lower East Side in the early 1900′s. Jessie is selected by the village rabbi to use the one ticket he has to America. She must leave her beloved grandmother in Eastern Europe and sail the ocean to America.

After arriving in America, Jessie works hard to learn English and save enough money to buy her grandmother a ticket as well. Her path crosses three years later with a young man from the ship and a friendship and eventual romance ensues. The story is a beautiful telling of courage, hope and love that is greatly enhanced by the gorgeous oil painting illustrations.

Brave Irene
Brave Irene by William Steig is the delightful tale of Irene, a young girl who goes on a very important errand for her mother. Her mother has sewn a beautiful ball gown for the duchess but is too sick to deliver it through the cold and snow in time for the ball. Irene assures her mother that she will get it to the palace in time.

Irene encounters many obstacles along the way while trudging through the snow and cold, but she continues on with great courage and determination. At last she is able to deliver the dress and is rewarded with the opportunity to attend the ball herself before going home the next morning.

Three Great Children’s Picture Books about Courage
The Empty Pot, When Jessie Came Across the Sea, and Brave Irene are excellent children’s picture books that convey the important message of courage in the face of difficulty and adversity. Illustrated in three distinctly different styles, each book has a compelling story that children will find enjoyable, though-provoking and memorable.

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Sticker Dolly Dressing Around the World – Sticker Books as Learning Tools

Sticker Dolly Dressing Around the World

I purchased Sticker Dolly Dressing Around the World probably almost a year ago. It sat on the shelf until it seemed like the “right” time to get it out and use it with Caroline. This fall was the right time and so we’ve been enjoying it!
One of the things we like to do as part of our learning is snuggle on the couch and do sticker books together. There are so many educational ones out there. They are a great starting point for discussing different topics. Sticker books also work great for children who have busy hands, busy mouths and aren’t necessarily fond of writing. You can do lots of talking while doing sticker books together! LOL! We started on sticker books as a learning tool when Caroline was quite young and continue to this day!

Each two page spread features a different culture around the world with a few people that you dress in their native costume or some sort of special event costume. The dolls include both men and women so you see both types of outfits. There is a brief paragraph about the culture that can be enough or a starting point for a more in-depth study.

Many of the stickers do have to be put on in a particular order. The directions are written on each sticker page and are very clear.  But you would not be able to turn a three or four year old loose on this alone. Either the child needs to be able to read directions pretty well or else she will need assistance in figuring out what to do.

Posted in Books, Early Elementary, First Grade, History and Geography, Kindergarten, Learning and Homeschooling, Preschoolers, Product Reviews | Leave a comment

Potato: A Tale from the Great Depression – 10 Days of Learning from The Great Depression Series

10 Daysof Learning from the Great Depression

Every once in awhile you see a book somewhere that draws you in and you know you have to buy it. Potato: A Tale From The Great Depression was that way for me. It brings a complicated time down to a simple level for children, showing them what life was like for one family during the Great Depression.

Kate Lied writes the story of her grandparents, Clarence and Agnes, and what happened when Clarence lost his job. They had not been married all that long and they had a baby girl. But with determination, courage and hard physical work they were able to persevere during those difficult years.

The story is written simply with just a sentence or two on each page. The illustrations are warm, but also illustrate the difficulties faced by the little family.

Potato: A Tale From The Great Depression is an excellent picture book to help young children begin to understand what happened to families during this tumultuous time. It also makes an excellent starting point for discussing character traits such as perseverance and sacrifice.

Highly recommended with a permanent place on our family bookshelves. :-)

This is part of my 10 Days of Learning from The Great Depression series which is part of iHN’s October Hopscotch. See many more great series on all sorts of topics here.


Posted in Books, Early Elementary, History and Geography, Learning and Homeschooling, Product Reviews, Ten Days of Learning from the Great Depression | Leave a comment

An interview with Monica Wellington about “Colors for Zena” plus a giveway of her books!

An interview with Monica Wellington about "Colors for Zena"

A number of years ago when Caroline was just a baby, I happened across Apple Farmer Annie at a bookstore in Traverse City, Michigan. I instantly loved it!  I loved the story, the graphics, and just how cozy it was. I’ve since read a number of Monica Wellington’s books and have enjoyed them all.

So imagine how delighted I was to receive an email one day a few weeks ago from Monica Wellington asking me if I would be interested in doing a review of her new book Colors for Zena.  Of course I would! So today we have an interview with Monica and three of her books to give away to three lucky readers!

Colors for Zena is the story of a little girl who discovers how different colors come together to make new colors. Throughout the book her world is impacted by the colors. This is a wonderful book for parents, primary teachers, and art teachers who are introducing primary colors and how those colors comes together to make new colors.

And now on to the interview!

Welcome, Monica!  It is great to be able to share your beautiful work with my readers!


What led to the writing of “Colors for Zena?”

It is hard to say where a book begins – probably in some way from my own childhood. But this book, at least partly, came from color games my daughter and I played when she was little. Walking down the street in the busy city, we would pick out everything that we saw that was red, and then yellow, and so on. Was that blue or was that purple, we would ask? What is our favorite color today? … Then back at home she loved discovering for herself how colors worked – there was always an abundance of paint!

At the end of Zena there is a color wheel and suggestions of some fun things to do with color. I hope readers will be inspired to be creative and paint colorful pictures themselves!

Who inspires you as a writer?  An artist?

Just the other day I was at a library book sale where I found some old classics by Roger Duvoisin, Robert McCloskey and Barbara Cooney. These are some of the artists who continually inspire me in children’s books.

You have a very unique illustration style. Who or what was influential in developing that style?

Some people can draw and paint with such fine technique and I’m quite in awe of that! I’m not really a versatile artist myself, but on the other hand I guess I have my own particular style! When I went to art school I focused on ceramics – I wanted to be a potter. It took me some time on my own after college to figure out my true passions. I loved drawing and painting when I was a child. When I was young we lived in Switzerland and I have very distinct memories of how much I loved to draw then. I think I picked up where I left off about 20 years later! Everything fell into place when I had the good luck to discover the field of children’s books.


How can parents best encourage their artistically-inclined children?

I think the best thing is to simply provide plenty of good art materials, readily available all the time. And I think it is great to always carry a notebook and color pencils for spontaneous projects when you are out and about.

Do you have a personal favorite from your own books? Why is it your favorite?

Probably Crepes by Suzette – my homage to Paris. It was published a while ago, it went out-of-print and people often contact me looking for copies. “Suzette” is special to me because I now have the chance to work on it again: I’m bringing it back to life as an app, a digital book. The illustrations that I originally made for the book were mixed media collages of photos and all sorts of things I had collected from France. It has been so much fun expanding the concept of collage and adding a lot of new content. I went to Paris and collected sounds, voices, and music with my digital recorder and I have learnt new skills as a sound editor. There will be narrations in many languages, including French. There will be short videos, showing Paris and crepe making. All Suzette’s customers are out of famous French paintings and I have been able to add much more about that in the app as well. Hopefully the project will be ready soon!


Who would be in your Top 5 must study artists for young children and why?

I would say, let your children lead the way to the artists that appeal to them. If you possibly can, bring them to museums and follow them. Pull out those notebooks and color pencils and encourage them to draw in front of their favorite paintings.

Some of my favorite artists are represented in Crepes by Suzette by her customers: Matisse, Chagall, Van Gogh, Seurat, Picasso – you could also begin there.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the parents and teachers reading here?

Writing and illustrating is very solitary. My studio space is at home in my apartment in New York City. I work with music and my two cats for company. Even after 25 years of doing this, I am still amazed at how lucky I am that my books go out into the world to children. Sometimes I hear directly from families who are reading my books and I love that! Thank you!

So here is your chance to win one of Monica’s books! Her publisher has sent along a hardcover of Colors for Zena, a paperback Apple Farmer Annie, and a board book of Apple Farmer Annie.  Feel free to enter any of the giveaways below!

GIVEAWAY UPDATE: I had a big problem with the Rafflecopter collection of entries. :-( I was able to sort it out on my end, but the winner will not show up properly for Giveaway 1 or 2. But the winners are:

Giveaway 1 – Dinah Ely

Giveaway 2 – Kelly Beam Brown

Giveaway 3 – Edna Garcia

Giveaway 1 – Colors for Zena

a Rafflecopter giveaway

  Giveaway 2 – Apple Farmer Annie paperback

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway 3 – Apple Farmer Annie board book

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Posted in Books, Giveaways, Learning and Homeschooling | 8 Comments