Crystal Madrilejos

Design & Creative

I mentioned in my last post that I’d post about the Totoro party, so here I am making good on that! The party, overall, was a success. Considering how little planning I did and just sort of threw some things together at the last minute, I was pretty happy with how the decorations turned out. If you aren’t familiar with the movie “My Neighbor Totoro,” you should check it out. Quil loves it (obviously,) as do Andrew and I
Also, BIG THANKS to my sister Maria for hosting and helping with decorating and making food and baking the mini-cakes. She is the best planner and most organized person I know. No family holiday or event could take place without her. The members of our family would all be arriving at different locations at different times and there’d be no food if she didn’t wrangle us all together! She really is “the glue” in our family.
Here are various photos of the different details. Totoro is a forest spirit so a lot of the theme was basically nature related. 
The table center piece consisted of faux-plants, dried moss, grapevines, fabric flowers, and flower stickers. I hot-glued dried moss to wooden boxes from the dollar aisle at Target, we then used as risers for the cakes. 
These wooden acorns were made from mini-wooden eggs found at the local craft store that I stained and painted to look like the acorns the Mei collects in the film. It’s hard to see in this photo, but they have a clear coat of gloss spray on them as well. 
Here is a wider view of the table with all the mini-cakes (there were five birthdays being celebrated. We have a big family!) All the faux-plants were purchased from a local craft and hobby store. 
In place of party hats, we had a few leaf hats based on the scene from the movie where Totoro has a leaf on his head to protect from the rain. These were pieces of felt cut in the shape of a leaf, with a little extra piece for the stem, hot glued to brown headbands.
We happened by this outfit for Ellis at Target randomly. It’s supposed to be a rabbit, but I thought it looked close enough to a Totoro costume to warrant its purchase. Plus, it’s just super cute. Target has that ability to lure you in with their low-prices and high-cuteness-factor. It’s a dangerous situation to go into when shopping last minute for a party!
This paper cut mobile was supposed to have three tiers, with Totoro at the top and then the two smaller Totoros (the blue and the white ones) hanging below. However, the pieces for the smaller Totoros were so tiny, there was no way I was going to be able to cut them out within a reasonable amount of time. Mind you, I was working on this around 10pm the night before the party (because I’m nuts.) So I decided to forgo the smaller guys even though the OCD/perfectionist in my brain was giving me hard time. In the end, it still turned out fine.

And a few more shots of the mini-cakes my sister made. You can see some Soot Sprites peeking out here and there. For these, we bought black pompoms and stick-on googly eyes. They were so simple, my 4-year-old niece was able to make them. We had her churning out Soot Sprites at maximum speed! The little pink, orange and aqua flowers are from the dollar aisle in Target. They came as long ribbons, but I just snipped a few strands apart and sprinkled them around. They actually reminded me of the candy the Soot Sprites eat in Spirited Away.

So, that was our joint-birthday Totoro Party, in a nutshell! I can relax for another 5 months until Ellis has her FIRST BIRTHDAY. Yikes. Hers should be extra nuts because she’s a summer birthday! I’ll be sure to “over-do” like I always do, according to Andrew.
Whew! This past month has been a whirlwind. I just wanted to pop in and say “hi!” because I know I’ve been absent here lately. Work has been super busy and, as per usual, I’ve got my plate full of other fun side projects which haven’t left me with any free minutes to just sit and type. My blog RSS reader is up to over 1000 unread items because I haven’t had time to catch up on my regular reads. First world problems, I know.
The intense work days that start early and end late combined with a lack of sleep have finally caught up to me. Ellis is transitioning into going all night without nursing. She has cried for about 20 minutes somewhere around the hours of 2 or 3am for the past few nights. And Quil is in this terrible phase of only wanting to sleep in our bed and he’s an awful bed mate, forever tossing and turning and kicking. It’s been extra hard since Quil and Ellis share a room and we haven’t yet found a balance of them co-existing in that space without one waking the other. I slept horribly last night and when I did sleep I had nightmares of work projects gone awry. Ugh. So, today I felt rundown and just plain exhausted. 
So, tonight I’ve finally able to just (sort of) relax and write this post and work on a little crafty project: Wood Acorns for our Totoro-themed party this Saturday! Q turned 3-years-old last weekend but this Saturday we’re celebrating all the February/March birthdays in my family – there are five.
I found some little wood eggs at the local craft store that I stained to look like the acorns from Totoro. They still need a few finishing touches, but I’ll post finished pictures when they are done.
If you’ve never seen My Neighbor Totoro, I highly recommend it. Quil loves it, as do Andrew and I.

On Creativity, On Family

Q Says Draw

Just wanted to pop in and let you all know that we have a new feature called Q Says Draw where we will be posting drawings that Andrew and I do at the request of Quil. Lately, he’s been doing this a lot, requesting us to draw this or that, and usually it’s of the same thing over and over and over (as you’ll see!) We’ve been trying to document as many of these drawings as we can, though I know there are many that we forgot along the way. Unfortunately, we missed the phase of “Draw a truck with a Christmas tree in the back.” I drew so many of those. Maybe I can still find a few to photograph…

In the meantime, enjoy his current obsession here. Or you can follow the new link the right sidebar. It’s hard to miss. It’s huge.

[Drawing doodle from 2004-ish]


I’m a working Mama. I’m also nursing a 5-month old baby, so that means I have to pump while at work. When I went back to work in November after my maternity leave, my co-workers gave me a potted Amaryllis bulb as a “Welcome Back” gift. Turns out, this is the PERFECT gift for a pumping Mama!

Pumping isn’t the most glamorous or the most fun thing to do with one’s time. It’s a lot of just sitting there (thank goodness for smart phones and this bra.) And you look and feel like a milking machine with tubes and bottles and plastic breast shields. It’s quite a sight.

However, I’m fortunate to at least have a pumping room at my office with a lot of natural light. When they gave me this potted Amaryllis bulb I decided, rather than put it at my desk, I’d put it in my pumping room. These past two months I’ve been back at work I’ve been able to watch my plant grow and it’s been absolutely fascinating, calming, and peaceful. Since Amaryllis are very fast growing it gives me something to look forward to every time I have to pump. This week, it bloomed (as you can see in the photo above.) Here is a rough time-lapse from the past two months:

This could be a great gift for a non-working Mama as well. It’s easy to care for and has a big impact when it blooms.

Any working Mama’s out there who pump during their workday? How do you pass your time while pumping?


As promised, I put together the pattern for the crocheted toy bags that I’ve been making lately. This is the first pattern I’ve written, so bear with me and please let me know if you find any errors or if any of the directions are confusing. (more…)

Like most households with small children, the toy situation seems to get out of control fast. You somehow go from 0 to 1,000,000 toys in only a few short years! They multiply like a wet Mogwai and next thing you know you are constantly stepping on small sharp things and doing a monthly under-the-couch sweep of wayward balls and anything with wheels. You have entire sections of your home devoted to them and somehow they end up everywhere but there. You get so sick of putting things away that you eventually just get a huge bin that you throw everything into only to have your kid dump it out the minute you put the last toy away. Andrew said that one time he intentionally didn’t pick up after Quil just to see what the house would look like in one day. He said by mid-afternoon, it looked like someone had robbed the place. Drawers out, couch cushions overturned, cabinets open!

But one thing we learned with Quil is that he is pretty good about putting things away if each type of toy has its own container and not just one catch-all bin. We started off with just cloth bags that you sometimes get when you buy a pair of shoes. But we only had a couple of those. So I decided to start making some crocheted ones. Now he’s got bags for puzzle pieces, train sets, musical instruments, cars, and he can remember which ones go where for the most part.

Don’t get me wrong. His toys still get everywhere, but it does seem more manageable when everything has a designated bin/bag. I still need to make a few more, but these are super easy to make and work up pretty quick since I crochet three strands at once with a large hook. Check back later this week for a pattern if you are interested in making some for yourself.

The pattern is now available here.


Sometimes, it’s the simple things that make kids the happiest. Awhile ago, we noticed Quil had started hanging on the edge of our kitchen table. His little fingers gripped the edge while he hung suspended in a seated position about four inches from the floor. He would swing for about five seconds before he couldn’t hold on any longer. He seemed to enjoy it so much that Andrew decided to install a swinging bar in our hallway using closet hardware and a big wooden dowel.
Our three biggest considerations were that it had to be safe, removable and simple enough that Quil could set it up himself. 
To keep it safe, we left it close enough to the ground that he if he were to slip and fall, he would still be able to land on his feet. 
Also, in our initial attempt we realized that the bar had a tendency to spin as Quil was swinging which would cause him to fall if he didn’t have a super tight grip. To remedy this, Andrew drilled a hole in the dowel and put a peg into the hole. He then drilled a hole for this peg to rest in the bottom of the open-ended brace, as seen in the photo below. This keeps the dowel from moving around within the hardware.
A few things to note if you decide to try this yourself. Make sure you use a dowel rod that is not too thick for your child’s grip, but is still strong enough to hold their weight. You want them to be able to hold it comfortably, but still need it to be strong. We only recommend doing this in a narrow-ish hallway. If the distance is too far apart, it might put too much strain and cause your dowel to break.

Since the little ones came along, we’ve really been putting effort into creating family traditions for them to look forward to every year. With Ellis being so young, we decided to start with something fun and simple this year – making fingerprint ornaments for us and the Grandparents.

This idea actually came from an ornament that my younger sister, Flora, made at school when she was little. One of my other sisters found it amongst my parents decorations and thought it be fun to make with our own kids. They turned out super cute!

However, these weren’t as easy as we’d hope. I think it mainly had to do with their age. As the kids get older, I imagine it will get easier but it was actually quite difficult to get fingerprints from a 4 month old! Less so from Q, who is rounding on 3 years pretty soon. But still not quite as easy as I’d hoped. Ellis’ hands just kept grasping my fingers and the ink would get everywhere and smear. Quil would just push super hard on the paper so his fingerprints were just blobs! Plus, both their prints are soooo tiny. It was hard to get a clearly defined print. I also think we didn’t use the best ink pad, so the actual pattern from their fingerprints weren’t really distinct.

Next year, we’ll experiment more to find what ink and paper combo works best. But if you want to give it a try, these are the supplies you’ll need:

  • ink pad (washable, non-toxic, child-safe ink) – preferably in a light enough color that you’ll be able to see the lines when you draw on top of the fingerprint. We used a grey.
  • multiple sheets of cardstock – a patterned background sheet is optional
  • wooden drapery rings – you can get these usually at a craft store like Joann Fabrics or Michaels or Hobby Lobby
  • ribbon – thin enough to fit through the eyelets of the drapery rings
  • archival ink pens – I used a Micron .05 pen for the black details, and felt tip pens for the holly
  • glue

We started off by just doing a bunch of fingerprints of each kid all over the sheets of the cardstock. We figured it would just be easier to center them after the fact, rather than try to get the kids to place their fingers perfectly in the center of a small circle. I used Ellis’ thumb since her fingers are microscopic. And Quil used his index finger.

Be sure that you leave enough space around each fingerprint so that it can be mounted onto the drapery ring. This is why I had to use the patterned paper on Ellis’ portrait. I accidentally had the particular fingerprint I wanted to use too close to one of the others. This resulted in a paper circle not big enough to mount on the drapery ring. To remedy this, I cut out around the fingerprint I wanted to use and, with a mounting square, affixed it to a larger circle cut from the decorative paper. I then mounted that larger circle onto the drapery ring.

After the fingerprints were dry, we chose the best ones and used this book as inspiration for drawing creatures. I chose the snail for Ellis and an owl for Quil. I also did simple portraits of each of the kids with their respective prints.

Cut around your drawing making sure it’s big enough to glue onto the drapery ring. We then wrote the kids’ names on the back with the year, applied glue around the front edge of your circle, then attached it to the drapery ring. Add your ribbon and you’re done! Here are all of ours:

We hope to do this with them every year and eventually have them do the drawings themselves. I probably will look forward to this tradition more than they will!


[Instagram photo I took of things that inspire me]

With the zombie apocalypse forever on the horizon, my sister, Maria, and I have already decided on our rendezvous point if such a thing should ever occur. Obviously, we say this all in good fun. But it actually got me thinking about things… 

At night, laying in bed, I’ve been thinking: What if some sort of catastrophic event were to happen near us? What would we grab before we made our mad dash to our “rendezvous point? I’ve thought about this multiple nights in a row, always considering things like, “maybe we should grab all our shoes, because those things will wear out quick when you’re constantly on the move.” or “I should probably grab my supply of frozen breast milk just in case something were to happen to me, Andrew would be able to feed Ellis.” Finally, one night I turned to Andrew and asked him what he thought. And his answer was simply: “the kids.” Which then got me thinking more…

So with this new year upon us, and everyone high on the prospects of new beginnings and resolutions for the year to come, I’ve decided to jump on this ol’ bandwagon and make a couple of my own.

My first “resolution” is based on Andrew’s simple, honest, and sensible answer to my nonsensical question. This is the year that I really start taking a hard look at the things that matter and only accumulate/consume/surround myself with things that are useful and inspirational. I hesitate to use the term “minimal” because it doesn’t really fit me, rather I’m going to lean towards the term “meaningful.” I’m tired of thinking about things and stuff and where it goes. Or where it will go in the future. I give up on meaningless stuff!

Which leads me to my next resolution: To be more present and, ultimately, more patient. With myself, with Andrew, with the kids, with the pace of our lives, and with all those things I see on the horizon but can’t quite make out clearly. I don’t know how many times I’ve said to Andrew in the past, “I feel like we’re always waiting. When do we get to start our lives?” – to which Andrew always replies, “We already have!” And he’s right. So this year, I resolve to stop waiting.

Oh and to blog more :)

What are you resolving to do this year?

Awhile back, when I decided to expand this blog to encompass more than just the projects that Andrew and I make, parenting and family was one of the topics I definitely wanted to include. Even though we intended to, we haven’t really had too many parenting & family discussions on here. The main reason I’ve hesitated is that in the few years that I’ve been a parent, I’ve realized (like many parents) there is a very fine line between honest discussion and unwanted advice when it comes to parenting.

However, recently somethings I’ve been noticing have made me want to have some honest parenting discussion. 
The first thing I’ve been noticing is that, as parents, we haven’t been doing the best job at supporting one another. 
If I’ve learned anything at all in the past (almost) three years, it’s that parenting is hard. Really hard. And many decisions you make as a parent are going to be difficult ones and sometimes the best options are the hardest to follow through on. This isn’t news to anyone who is a parent. The thing I’m finding really disheartening is that we aren’t supporting one another in these hard decisions. For example, if someone decides they want to feed their baby only homemade organic baby food – not the easiest route to take – and is finding it difficult to keep good on this decision, some parents would say, “Don’t be too hard on yourself, just buy some baby food.” – which of course would totally be fine! But the thing I’m not seeing enough of is someone saying “Just stick with it! You can do it!” It’s a subtle difference, but that’s what I mean when I say we aren’t supporting one another. 
We need to root for our fellow parents, encourage and cheer them on! We need to help them to not compromise on things that are important to them. It was important enough to that parent to try to make their own food, why not try to help them follow through and stick with what they really wanted to do in the first place? And if that parent decides to forgo their initial plan and go another route, we should support them in that too. Which leads me to the next thing I’ve been noticing.
No parent is perfect. Regardless of what you see on blogs and Pinterest, it’s not always what it seems. I’ve seen lots of parents think they are “bad parents” because they don’t have a Pinterest perfect family-life, and don’t do crafts and make their own baby food, etc, which, of course, is not true at all. But I’ve also seen these same parents describe bloggers and other parents who DO make their own baby food, and do crafty things as “pretentious” and “stepford-wife-like,” which is equally as bad in my opinion, if not worse! Why would you ever want to discourage another parent and make them feel bad for doing something good for their kid/s?
What it comes down to is that different things are important to different people, AND THAT’S FINE! We need to respect that the decisions other parents make are in the best interest of their kids, just like the decisions you make for yours, and that’s all that matters. It’s okay if it’s not important to you to buy expensive organic diapers or breastfeed your baby, but it’s also completely fine if IT IS important to another parent. Not doing these things doesn’t make you a bad parent. And doing them doesn’t make you pretentious either. We need to stop judging each others parenting styles because it’s hard enough to parent without having to worry that others are criticizing our every decision. 
Have you ever felt like other people were judging the way you choose to parent?
If so, just know here’s one parent that’s rooting for you and cheering you on from the trenches!