September 28, 2016

13 Favorite Halloween Books

The BEST Halloween picture books that you'll definitely want to add to your collection this year!

I have never been particularly into Halloween, even as a kid.

Dressing up is not my thing, I hate scary stuff, and basically it was a reasonably fun holiday, but nothing I looked forward to all year or something.

But now as an adult, I am QUITE into Halloween.

My girls are obsessed with it and love talking about their costumes, I love that, as a grown-up, there's so much less pressure to wear a costume, and I can just buy myself all the candy I want on clearance after Halloween.

Also, I love decorating my house and putting out my growing display of Halloween books. Every year, I buy one or two new ones to add to our collection, and it's so fun to see them come out in October, be read daily for a month, and then put away to anticipate for another year.

Here are my top picks, whether you're looking to build your own collection or just grab a few new titles from the library:

Pumpkin Trouble by Jan Thomas
Jan Thomas is a sure hit at our house - every one of her books just amuses everyone to no end (although I have a special place in my heart for Let's Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy) and this pumpkin-themed one is no exception. Duck wants to carve a pumpkin to surprise his friends, but then he falls in and can't get out, so he waddles away to find someone to rescue him, but all his friends think it's a haunted pumpkin and flee in terror.

Ten Orange Pumpkins by Stephen Savage
I am obsessed with Stephen Savage's artwork (all these years later, and I still think Where's Walrus? ranks among my favorite picture books), but this one was new to me last year, although it came out about 3 years ago. The story begins with ten pumpkins, but one by one, pumpkins begin to disappear and you have to keep a close eye on the illustrations to figure out what's happened to each of them, which makes for a fun Halloween mystery.

Bone Dog by Eric Rohmann
I've been reading this one almost every year since it came out, but for some reason, this was the first year it really appealed to me. My girls really latched on to it this year, and we've read it at least a dozen times this season. When Gus loses his beloved dog Ella to old age, she promises him that she'll always be with him. And when Halloween rolls around and some spooky skeletons corner Gus, she keeps her promise.

The Widow's Broom by Chris Van Allsburg
To me, this is the ultimate Halloween book, since my parents owned a copy when I was growing up and I looked forward to it every October. When a witch's broom loses the power of flight unexpectedly and plunges the witch and the broom into a widow's garden, the widow kindly nurses the witch back to health and then finds herself the new owner of a broom that may not be able to fly anymore, but definitely still has some magic left in it. Chris Van Allsburg's books all have that slightly strange, magical feel to them, and this one couldn't be better.

I'm a Witch's Cat by Harriet Muncaster
This book delights me every time - both the story and the art are so original! A little girl is sure her mother is a good witch, and she's that witch's cat. Together they mix potions, cultivate a magic garden, and shop for eyeballs and fingers at the grocery store. And each page is a hand-made 3-D scene made from paper and other objects, and then photographed. There is basically no end of things to look at in this book.

Oliver and Amanda's Halloween by Jean Van Leeuwen and Ann Schweninger
I finally ordered myself a copy of this one this year, and I couldn't be happier to own these sweet stories of my favorite pigs picking costumes, making homemade donuts, and heading out to trick-or-treat. Oliver and Amanda forever!

Popcorn by Frank Asch
This one was out of print for a while (and used copies were wildly expensive), but now it's back in print and better than ever. I think we read our copy at least 50 times last October. When Sam's parents leave him home alone to attend a Halloween party, he decides to throw his own bash and tells all his friends to bring a treat. Every last one of them brings popcorn kernels and when they pop them all, the entire house is filled with popcorn, which they have to eat before Sam's parents get home.

Ghosts in the House by Kazuno Kohara 
I loved this book from the moment I first saw it in my picture book class in grad school, and I haven't even remotely tired of it in the years since then. When a sweet little witch moves into a house full of witches, she promptly gathers them up, launders them and puts them to work as curtains, sheets and tablecloths. The illustrations, all black and orange and white, are stunning.

Boo Haiku by Deanna Caswell, illustrated by Bob Shea
This one is new this year, and I couldn't love it more. Each page has a haiku and you have to guess what's being described. Even after many readings, my girls still get a kick out of guessing, and it's a fun way to introduce haiku. Plus, the illustrations by Bob Shea have a bold, modern feel to them that I love.

Mouse's First Night at Moonlight School by Simon Puttock, Illustrated by Ali Pye
When Mouse goes to school on the first night, he's so scared that he hides, despite the fact that his teacher, Miss Moon, is the sweetest friendliest witch you can imagine. And when no one can find him, an impromptu game of hide-and-seek is on for the whole class.

Eek! Halloween by Sandra Boynton
Oh Sandra Boynton. You can do no wrong. This board book about terrified chickens wondering what is going on when they find animals in costume around the barnyard is predictably hilarious and catchy.

Dog and Bear: Tricks and Treats by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
I think Dog and Bear are hilarious, and this is one of my favorites. In these Halloween themed episodes, they shop for costumes, welcome trick-or-treaters, and head out to collect candy of their own, all with amusing results.

Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown
This book is like watching an old black and white horror movie, in the best, picture-book, child-friendly sort of way. Jasper Rabbit won't stop eating carrots, so the carrots decide to get back at him, and soon Jasper is seeing carrots lurking wherever he goes. I need to get myself a copy of this book for my collection!

The BEST Halloween picture books that you'll definitely want to add to your collection this year!

Any favorite Halloween books? I'm always looking for more suggestions! And if you want more ideas, you can check out this list and this list, both of which have other great Halloween titles.

September 27, 2016

A Little Pregnancy Update

I remember when I was pregnant with Ella, thinking, "I cannot believe I haven't even finished one pregnancy, and I'll probably have to do this whole thing again at least twice more, and maybe three."

And yet, here I am almost halfway through a fourth one.

This pregnancy has been my most scary, since at 12 weeks, I was convinced I'd had a miscarriage. I've never had one, but I had so much sudden bleeding on a trip home from the library and then continued all evening long, that I was sure there was no way I was still pregnant.

I hadn't yet been into the doctor's, so I made an appointment for two days later, and when I went in, and they found a strong little heartbeat, I was totally shocked.

After an ultrasound, they determined that the cause of all the bleeding (which has completely stopped after that first day) was a sub-chronic hemorrhage, which I'd never heard of, but appears to be pretty common.

Mine was actually quite large and so they've been monitoring it pretty closely, and I'm under strict instructions to take it reasonably easy. So far, it hasn't made many signs of getting smaller (which, I'll admit, is giving me more nerves than any pregnancy ever has), but the baby is growing steadily and I haven't had any more bleeding, so I'm crossing my fingers that it resolves itself and everything turns out fine. But definitely more stressful than the last three, where I was pretty much a textbook-easy pregnancy.

Other than that, this pregnancy has been pretty much like my others. Pretty constant low-grade nausea through the first trimester, although I've throw up quite a bit less this time than I have with any other pregnancies (the most memorable this time was during a stop-and-go taxi ride during rush hour traffic from Manhattan to the JFK airport, where the poor driver had to pull over FOUR times so I could throw up on the street), and I have to eat basically non-stop. I'm keeping the cereal aisle of my grocery store in business all by myself.

I also haven't felt as tired during the first trimester as I did with Ani and Star, both of whom, required that I nap practically every day as soon as I tossed the other children in their cribs for naps. This time, it was right about the start of the second trimester where the exhaustion has been more pronounced, and my energy levels have definitely stayed low the past few few weeks.

This baby started moving a little bit during week 16, but then the day I hit 17 weeks, there was a LOT of movement, with obvious kicks and flips. Ever since Ani was born, I've had phantom baby movement when I'm not pregnant, so it's fun to feel those this time and know it's actually a baby, not just some weird mental thing.

Now Bart and I should probably stop procrastinating any discussion of names. People keep asking if we've picked, but the truth is that we don't have any picked out (not even contenders!). Even if this baby had been a boy, we don't have any boy names either.


September 26, 2016

A Birthday Weekend in Sedona

Last year for my birthday, we took a little weekend trip to a dude ranch in Tucson.

Despite the fact we were only gone about 24 hours, it was such a perfect little getaway to spend time as a family and get away from the regular routine at home.

This year, I wanted to do something similar, and since our trip to Sedona in January, I've been dying to go back with the girls.

Earlier this summer, the Orchards Inn invited us to come stay and so we scheduled it for the weekend of my birthday and I've been looking forward to this trip for weeks.

Bart finished up work on Friday afternoon a little early and we tossed all our stuff in the car and headed out. We didn't take a stroller on this particular trip and we didn't even need a crib, since the Orchards Inn told us they'd have one ready for us, so it felt like we took almost nothing along.

The drive took just over two hours and we arrived in time to eat dinner at Hideaway House. It's this cool kind of tree-house restaurant with multiple levels mostly outdoors looking out over the cliffs. It was totally dark by the time we sat down, but a gorgeous full moon was rising over the mountains and it was spectacular.

The girls wanted pizza, but the waitress warned us that the pizza took about 25 minutes to cook, and suggested the cheese bread appetizer instead, which arrived within about ten minutes and was delicious. The girls ate every bite. Bart got some salmon (which all the girls helped him with) and I got an excellent Italian grinder sandwich.

There was a pretty spooky Halloween guy in the lobby (pretend, but with a fairly realistic face that moved around) and Star was kind of petrified of him. All the way back to the car, she kept saying, "Guy. Guy. Bye, Guy. No, Guy."

The Orchards Inn was just around the corner, so we drove up, checked in, and found our room which was enormous with two queens and a fold-out couch, plus a crib set up for Star. They also had a little box of chocolates and a nice birthday note for me, which was a fun surprise, especially for the girls, who were disappointed we hadn't ordered dessert at dinner.

By this time, it was nearly nine p.m., so we put everyone in jammies, tucked the two big girls into the fold-out bed, settled Star in her crib, and then Bart and I got in bed with our laptop and book respectively. I was so tired I fell asleep within about ten minutes, and slept like a rock (as did everyone else - I need to get those heavy hotel blackout curtains for every room in our house).

The Orchards Inn serves a pretty comprehensive complimentary breakfast at the restaurant that shares their parking lot, so we all got ready and headed over for yogurt and granola, cold cereal, toast, eggs, and juice. They also had these SunGold kiwis, which I'd never had, but were so amazing that we ate four of them.

Last time, we'd stayed farther south, so it was fun to be right in the middle of things this time, with plenty of shops and restaurants within walking distance.

On the way in the night before, we'd passed a sign for a farmers market, and Ella has been begging to go to a farmer's market, so this seemed like the day to make that happen. We drove down (it was quite a bit longer of a drive than I'd remembered) and wandered around. It was fairly small and not terribly impressive, but the weather was nice and there was live music and a real goat, so everyone was happy.

We headed back to the hotel where Bart and Star took naps while the big girls and I headed to the Sedona library. I'd been there on our last trip and knew the girls would love it, and I wasn't wrong. They were totally infatuated with the dress-up section, and Ella made me a whole slew of mail, including checks, letters from my parents, and joke postcards.

Eventually, we headed back, helped Bart pack up our stuff, and then we headed out to lunch. The best meal of our trip last time was at Indian Gardens Cafe and Market, so I was anxious to return for another bacon and brie sandwich. Last time, we'd eaten inside because it was a little chilly in the shade, but this time it was perfect, and we snagged a table and it was just the perfect spot for lunch. The food was amazing, being outdoors meant it didn't matter when we had two different water spills, and the girls loved wandering around looking at the fountains while we waited for our meal. I could have sat there all day.

Ani said, "Sedona is SO much nicer than Arizona."

As we were leaving, Bart was herding the girls and I was standing alone near the entrance and a woman from the table next to us came up to me and said, "Are those three girls yours?" When I told her that, yes, they were, she said, "We kept trying to decide if you were the mom or the oldest daughter!" I guess I'm aging slower than I thought!

We'd intended to hike West Fork which was near the cafe, since it crossed a little river several times and that seemed like something the girls would love, but when we arrived, the parking lot was completely full and it was a two hour wait for a parking spot. So . . . that was a no.

We passed several other hiking spots on the way back but they were also completely full. The girls were getting restless, but Bart and I really didn't want to leave without a hike, so I looked up a few places on my phone and found Broken Arrow trail which had great reviews, but very few of them (a good sign that it wasn't as popular) and looked easy enough for the girls.

It also turned out to have free parking, so that was an extra bonus.

Even though it was only about 85 degrees, the sun was bright and hot, and I was glad I'd packed the sunscreen.

We spent just under an hour on the trail, and the girls LOVED every second of it, using the hiking sticks Bart found for them, scrambling over rocks, and cautiously petting a dog. I'm hoping that we can get out and do more hikes this fall while the weather is beautiful.

When we got back to the car, everyone was tired and warm enough to enjoy being back in the air-conditioned car and we headed straight back to Phoenix.

Bart and I both wanted to hit Berry Divine again, but no one was quite hungry yet after our huge lunch, so we looked it up and discovered that there was one in Scottsdale on our way home, which ended up being a nice break for dinner and bathrooms before the last push home.

It was a perfect stopping point, and our acai bowls were as delicious as we'd remembered. Then home, baths for all the dusty, sticky babies, and everyone tucked in their own beds.

I love this new little tradition of a weekend trip for my birthday. Now to figure out where to go next year. . .

Big thanks to the Orchards Inn for hosting us - it's the perfect spot to stay with a family and I'm already wondering how soon we can go back


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