THE MYSTERY CLOSET

This April Fool’s day, I decided to transform a tiny, unremarkable closet in my house into what my kids and I have dubbed THE MYSTERY CLOSET. The challenge was to create it for under $20. My friends, the grand total was $19.30. Details below!

The ultimate goal for THE MYSTERY CLOSET was that it be a place for writing. While we each have a desk in our bedroom, and while there is an art project table in the kitchen, I felt there also needed to be a dedicated space for our household typewriter. It had been sitting on a buffet table in the dining room, but the height and location of the buffet meant you had to stand to type. The results were just a few sentences here and there. I theorized that if I lowered the height of the typewriter, and allowed space for a chair to be pulled up, it would result in longer stories. I was way right.

There were 2 major limitations to this project: size and budget. The closet is very tiny. A mere 12″ deep and 43″ across. Luckily, I had an old table in the attic that fit. There’s just enough space on the table for the typewriter and a metal basket with blank paper underneath. Scoot a chair over from the dining table, and you have yourself a desk!

Budget was the other concern. I solved it by using items already in the house – xmas ornaments, halloween decorations, hats from the costume bin, a red tassel I found in my nightstand, a rediscovered world map, a…uh…green glow-in-the-dark pig that oinks when you squeeze it, etc.

I papered the upper shelf with the world map, but the London Underground map you see on the back wall is actually wrapping paper from a local bookstore! I also bought a dozen postcards. The final purchase was a Magic 8 Ball mug, deeply discounted, from Target.

And for you eagle eyes who spotted Bill Cipher, the question mark Post-it note, and the 8 Ball…yes, we are huge Gravity Falls fans. Fun fact: the first sentence I left the kids on THE MYSTERY CLOSET typewriter was “Stan is not what he seems.” #teamwaddles

And speaking of ciphers, the new installation did include a coded message. I dropped 2 copies of the pigpen cipher in the metal basket, and left a Post-it message to the kids nearby:

The grand finale? This closet is wired with overhead LIGHTS! There’s no electrical outlet, so I used battery-operated LED string light stars from IKEA (a leftover xmas stocking stuffer). The battery box is taped to the interior door frame, within easy reach.

The London Underground wrapping paper cost $4.50, The Magic 8 Ball mug was $2.80, and the postcards cost $12. Project total: $19.30. Reaction from my kids? Priceless.

That morning, I didn’t say anything about the closet. I just waited until my daughter asked “Hey, where’s the typewriter?” A cryptic reply, a house-wide search, and the closet was soon discovered! They were soooo excited. Especially my 10 year-old son. I’m happy to report THE MYSTERY CLOSET has been in steady use by both kids ever since. The typewriter goes at all hours, which is truly music to this mom’s ears. Success!

So Happy Together

so happy together

What could be cuter then a mama and baby bunny? A cozy log house with a fold-out flower garden, of course! And did we mention the house has a “working” LED votive fireplace? Such. Cuteness.

log homeThis project was designed for a story time with author Amanda Rowe, who visited our library, fuzzy bunny ears at the ready. Scroll to the end of the post for an interview with Amanda, as well as a fabulous book giveaway!

amanda rowe with bunny ear crowdWe read If There Never Was a You, written by Amanda Rowe, and illustrated by Olga Skomorokhova (Familius, 2019). A mother bunny lovingly asks what she would do without baby bunny in her life. This book is adorable, heartfelt, and beautifully illustrated. The perfect bedtime snuggle book, hands down!

You’ll need:

  • 1 box (ours was 4.5” X 4.5” x 9”, a large tissue box works too)
  • 1 box cutter
  • 1 strip of poster board (ours was 1.75″ x 8.5″)
  • 1 bunny house frames template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • A selection of construction paper
  • 2 small boxes
  • 1 wooden spool
  • 1 LED votive
  • 1 toilet paper tube
  • 4 mini pom-poms
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating

We used a 4.5” X 4.5” x 9” brown craft box for our project, but you can also modify a large tissue box. Just cut the top of the tissue box on a hinge, like so:

tissue log home alternativeUse a box cutter to add a window and door to the ends of the box, then tape (or hot glue) a poster board handle to the top. Then decorate the interior and exterior of the log house! You can just use construction paper and markers to decorate. Or, dig around the supply closet for items with interesting textures.

log home interior Our flower garden was a bit of outdoor carpet (reused from our Seuss mini golf event). We added fabric flowers, cardboard mosaic square stepping stones, and a blue embossed foil paper pond. For the interior, we offered both construction and patterned paper (and don’t forget to add some farmed art work from the template!). Here are the furnishings:

log home furnitureThe armchair is a modified tape roll box, and the table is a circle of poster board with a wooden spool base. The fireplace is also a tape roll box. The “fire” is an an LED votive with poster board sticks attached to the front. Cut a toilet paper tube in half to create your 2 bunnies, then add ears and pom-pom tails and noses. Light the fire, get your bunnies cozy, and revel in the cuteness!

bunnies by the fireplaceBest of all, everything tucks inside the log box for easy transportation!

log home exteriorAfter the project was finished, out came fuzzy bunny ears for kids to wear home, and we also gave away 3 signed copies of Amanda’s book! Here’s a lucky (and clearly very excited) winner!

book winner with amanda roweIf There Never Was a You is Amanda’s first book! After story time, I caught up with her to chat about her process…


Tell us a little about yourself!

I’ve always been a creative person. When I was a child, I used to spend hours dressing my dolls with matching accessories and coordinating tiny ensembles. I made cards to give to people for birthdays and holidays, and I even learned calligraphy to make them look special! As a young adult, I made wedding and baby shower favors, and decorative wreaths. I scrapbooked and painted all sorts of wall decor for my children’s rooms when they were little. Creating is something I’ve always done, and writing is one of my favorite avenues of expression for my creativity. But I can’t draw, so I’m very thankful for gifted illustrators like Olga!

This is your very first book, tell us your inspiration for it!

My children are the inspiration for everything good that I’ve done, including this book. A few years ago, I was divorced, with only fifty percent custody, and my kids were approaching teenagerhood, so even when they were with me, they were often busy with friends or sports practices, and I missed them. As a mother, especially a working one, it is unusual to have free time, and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. But I wanted to channel that time and emotion into something positive, and I started thinking about how much I enjoy spending time with my kids, and all of the wonderful experiences I would have missed out on if they had not been born. I wrote it down, and that became If There Never Was a You.

What was the process to publication like?

It was a long road that led me here. I first began trying to get published when my children were little. I was a stay at home mother at the time, and I cherished my time with my kids, but I needed an intellectual outlet. So, at night, after they were asleep, I would go to our home office and write. I wrote everything and submitted most of it – personal essays, greeting cards, slogans, poems, non-fiction articles and eventually novels.

I sold a few poems, a greeting card and a slogan, and lots of non-fiction articles. But my novels were terrible, and my essays did not get picked up. I think that there are a lot of different types of writing, and not every writer is good at all of them. So, in the beginning, you try many different things to see what fits.

I took a break from writing when I got divorced because I returned to work full-time and I needed to focus on creating stability and a new normal for my kids. When I resumed writing a few years later, I tried my hand at children’s books, and this one got picked up almost immediately. I kept writing personal essays, too, because I enjoy reading them, and those eventually became my blog posts. So, it is an interesting situation I find myself in now, writing for children and adults at the same time. But it works. I read the book to the kids, and I point their parents to the blog. Hopefully, I have something of value to offer to both groups.

The illustrations by Olga Skomorokhova are gorgeous. At your story time, you asked the kids what their favorite illustration was…what’s yours?

That’s a hard question – it’s like trying to pick my favorite child! There is so much I like about all of them. I love the bunnies playing soccer because my son is a soccer player so that page is a nod to him (and it’s adorable – bunnies playing soccer!). I also really like the picture of the mom serving carrot cake to the child, because my daughter and I like to bake together and carrot cake is a favorite treat in our house. But I’m also a big fan of the carrot rocket ship (so creative!), and that page has one of my favorite lines, “Who would do your greatest things, and who would dream your dreams?” I like the idea that each child makes a unique contribution to the world, and if they had never been born, we would be missing something important.

if there never was a you illustrated by olgaskomorokhova

If There Never Was a You illustration by Olga Skomorokhova, used with permission of Familius, 2019

What’s the most unexpected thing about holding your first book in your hands?

The places and the life that this book has led me to. I imagined an author’s life as being a solitary existence, and it is anything but. It is true that I do most of the writing alone in my home office. But even at home, I’m not alone anymore – I’m interacting with people all over the world thanks to social media. There is so much networking and promotion involved when a book is published.

I’ve been everywhere lately – schools, libraries, bookstores – and I’m meeting so many people of various ages, from different walks of life, and it’s fascinating. I’ve been humbled and surprised by the warmth and the kindness of the people that I’ve met, and I’m so appreciative of all of the support that I’ve received from libraries, schools, bookstores, and parents.

And the kids are the best! They’re so sweet, curious, and openhearted. I’ve gotten some fantastic cards, pictures, and letters from kids that are so beautiful they made me cry. It’s a privilege, writing for and visiting with children, and they’ve inspired me to write more children’s books, so I have an excuse to hang out with them again!


Would you like to win a copy of the book? We have 3 copies of If There Never Was a You (Familius, 2019) to give away, signed by Amanda! Just send a mental hug to someone who means a lot to you, then e-mail cotsenevents@princeton.edu with your name. We’ll randomly draw 3 winners on Tuesday,  April 9th. Good luck!

The Bear Necessities

the bear necessities

Settle in for some serious sleep in this cozy bear cave complete with all the creature comforts…sofa, table, rug, artwork, and a flickering fire!

We read Sleep Tight, Little Bear, written by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Barbara Firth (Candlewick press, 2005). When Little Bear finds a little cave close to the Big Cave, he moves right in. Soon, there’s a bed, a table, a chair, and a stuffed doll! Supper is served in the little cave and Little Bear is having a grand time…until bedtime. Will Big Bear miss him? He’d better check. Sure enough, back at the Big Cave, there’s a story and a snuggle waiting.

You’ll need:

  • 1 cardboard box lid or tray
  • Brown packing/wrapping paper
  • 1 small box
  • Felt, any color
  • A selection of patterned paper
  • 1 bear cave frames template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ paper
  • 1 LED votive
  • Yellow and red cellophane
  • 1 half of a toilet paper tube
  • Brown construction paper
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

The bear cave’s base is a box lid or cardboard tray. We used these 9.5″ x 11″ cardboard trays (you might recognize them from this butterfly garden post!).

bear cave baseFirst, crinkle up brown packing or wrapping paper. Then arch it over the top of the base and secure to the sides and back of with tape. We taped a strip of crinkled paper to the front of the base as well.

bear cave constructionNow, for the inside! We made a half a toilet paper tube bear (with a dot sticker nose), a sofa made out of a little box with a bit of felt glued to it, a patterned paper rug, and a table made out of a wood circle and spool.

bear cave furnitureReady for some artwork? Cut the frames from the template, draw some pictures, and attach your artwork to the walls of the cave with tape loops. We also added some s in fall colors to make things extra cozy (we get our leaves from Discount School Supply, 200 leaves are $6).

The final touch? A flickering fire! Tape red and yellow cellophane to the front of an LED votive. Then add a few construction paper “sticks” over top.

led cave fireTo make things extra fun, we turned off the lights during the fire construction portion of the program. It was so cute to see these little illuminated caves on all the tables. But here’s the cave that completely captured my heart…this bear is roasting a marshmallow!

bear roasting marshmallows