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Have you seen My Neighbor Totoro? I hope so. If not, please do. It’s the cutest movie EVER. Our daughter loves it, which pleases me greatly… because I’ve dreamed of throwing a Totoro themed birthday party since the time she was just a twinkle in our eyes.

Here are a few pictures of the simple Totoro-themed party that we threw for Cleo’s 2nd birthday party. Everything came together in the end very nicely, with a lot of help from grandparents and friends. We planned a late morning party, so we just had cake and coffee. It was really nice to have coffee talk with friends in the park before the day got too warm.

Look at the great cake that my friend Vince helped me make! Actually, this one I did by myself, but he came over and helped me make a trial run cake. The vegan “buttercream” frosting recipe (see below) that he came up with looked better than this one did, but it was so very tasty. I used a Dr. Oetker’s lemon cake mix, and instead of using eggs, I substituted 1 tablespoon flax meal mixed with 3 tablespoons warm water for each egg, which is turning out to be my favorite egg substitute. It came out really well! There’s also a layer of organic blueberry jam in there between the cake layers serving as the filling. One of our guests wondered why I decided to make a cake that wasn’t vegan. He looked pretty surprised that it actually was. And there was barely enough for all of the guests. Oops.

Vegan Buttercream Frosting
1 c Earth Balance margarine, at room temperature
3 c vegan confectioner’s sugar
1-3 tbsp soy milk
1 tsp vanilla (Vince suggested flavoring it with fresh grated ginger! It was really good, but didn’t play well with the cake flavors we had planned here)
food color

Using a hand mixer, beat the margarine until fluffy. Slowly add the sugar; it’ll be crumbly. Add a tablespoon of soy milk and mix, adding more if necessary. Add vanilla, mix more. If you need more liquid, by all means, add more, but slowly. If desired, add food color. Now get to decorating! Makes about 3 1/2 cups.

Soot Sprites are abundant in Totoro’s neighborhood.

I made about 40 of them, with fuzzy faux fur, felt for eyes affixed with embroidery thread. Very simple, too (see my instructions, below, to make your very own). Making them was a lot of fun, but seeing the looks on people’s faces when presented with one was even better.

To make the Soot Sprites, trace 5″ circles (coasters work really well as a pattern here), and cut out 2 pieces for each sprite. The eyes are patterned by a quarter, and then use embroidery thread to affix them in a star pattern to one of the faux fur pieces (if you’re into that. Dots would work too). After attaching the eyes, place the faux fur pieces right sides together, and tuck the furry ends in toward the middle of the sprite so that you don’t see any fur sticking out. Pin the pieces together. Stitch around the edges (if you use a sewing machine for this, you will want a bigger needle and a longer stitch length. And you’ll also want to dust it out really well after this project. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that Soot Sprites can be messy!), leaving about a half inch seam allowance. Be sure to leave a 2-inch opening! Turn the sprite right-side-out, and stuff with the stuffing of your choice. They would make really great bean bags, but I opted for stuffing. Light and fluffy! Hand stitch them up. Voila! A Soot Sprite is born!

Acorns!

Acorns and seeds play a part in Totoro too. Cleo’s grandmother was so generous with her time and made a bunch of these! They’re about 2 inches from end to end, and made with such care. She is a crafty lady, and I think she really enjoyed the challenge of working on something so small, using a new pattern, and making them just right. She made almost 30 of them, and they’re amazing. They still sit up on our bookshelf to be admired. Here is the pattern she ended up using. There are a LOT of cute things going on on that site. I might have to learn to knit. Again.

It wouldn’t be a party without treat bags…

And our young guests seemed to enjoy them greatly. They’re just basic paper gift bags, filled with bubbles, Soot Sprites, the fabulous knitted acorns, and some stickers. The Totoros are made from heavy duty scrap booking paper. I sketched my basic¬† Totoro shape on one, cut it out, and then traced it to make some clones. I kept it very basic. Less is more, and when you try to do details on a reproduction, it looks so much more… reproduced. I did the same with the Totoro tummy, and then used a hole punch to do the eyes. After gluing them all together, I just used a felt pen to put on the finishing touches and customize them with the guest’s name. Finally, tape the Totoro to the full treat bag, and you’re done!
Our adult guests didn’t go home empty handed though. The night before, I cut down some flowers I got in bunches at the grocery store and grouped them in half-pint mason jars. So cute! I chose jars that would fit into a car’s cup holder. I’d hate for our party favors be remembered for the mess they made and not for the cuteness of the event!

Thanks to all of the help that we had, I was able to arrive at the party site just half an hour before the party started to unload everything. I enlisted a few friends to help with the tablecloths on the picnic table, and to arrange the decorations on top of them. My parents brought a huge party pot of organic coffee from a local roaster and coffee house, and I set up a little coffee station with a selection of vegan creamers and sweeteners. This party was a true lesson in keeping things simple so as to truly enjoy the day.
Here’s one of my favorite moments from the party- Cleo walking with my dad. At first she was really wobbly while maneuvering the perimeter of the now-unused wading pool at the park. By the time she got halfway around, she was feeling pretty confident; by the time she’d lapped it, she wasn’t even thinking about it anymore. She’s growing up so fast!

Happy Birthday Cleo. Next year you can pick out your party theme. xoxo Mommy

from Little Stitches for Little Ones by Amy Butler

I’d made 4 of these kitties last year, and they quickly got distributed among my friends with little ones. I did make one for my baby, and she loves to suck on its tail. This time I made a couple extra, since my sister saw last year’s litter and regretted telling me that she didn’t want me to make one at the time, and also knowing that my friends were going to keep reproducing.
The pattern is pretty easy to follow, and there are clear instructions for the embroidery stitches in the back of the book. If you are new to fabric reinforcing materials (such as fusible webbing or Wonder Under), this is a great project to warm up to it with, since you are using such a small amount of fabric (I used scraps and fat quarters). I love this project because you can choose fabric that you love but don’t want to commit to for a larger project like a dress… and it’s also fun in that you can do it pretty quickly. My challenge was with the stitching around the snout, ears, and feet. My sewing machine is crappy. I don’t know if I have a bobbin tension problem or what, but yes, I’ve taken it in to the machine doctor and he did a tune up and got me going with the correct bobbins (I’d been using the wrong kind, who knew???), but still, my threads bunch up and fray… so I took the kitties over to my mom’s house to use her awesome Bernina for the zigzag satin stitching. It went much smoother this time around. Also, you might notice that my new kitties lack tail stripes. Yes, I decided I liked them better without, largely because the stripes were a hassle for how much I didn’t love them. And you know, I do love stripes. Here’s a photo of last year’s kitties, with stripes:

And here’s my favorite one of the new litter. I’d planned to send it to a friend, but I’m having a really hard time parting with it. My sister accuses me of being a hoarder. Update: I did send it away! This kitty is happy in her new home, and her name is Flora.

Also, my sister feels bad that her kitty didn’t get a solo photo as well. She named this one Robertle:

Looking back, I’m realizing that I didn’t stuff the first litter enough!¬† I also made an effort to separate each foot this time, instead of making such a blobby form (which I do enjoy). My BF, Bean calls the new ones “twinkle toes!” Tee! Love it. Next project out of this book: a sheet for baby’s crib! I have the fabric all ready to go…