Monday, October 29, 2007

Finger Puppets - everywhere!

A Toy Garden - Store Review

If A Toy Garden were a store in my neighborhood, I imagine it would be tucked away between the larger businesses, but something about it would call out to me -- perhaps there would be a ginger-colored cat napping in the sunlit window, or window boxes of red geraniums. A bell would jingle softly as I opened the green-painted door, and the proprietor, Sonya, would greet me with a friendly "just let me know if you need any help" and leave me to explore. The store would be packed from floor to ceiling with playtime treasures, and unexpected surprises around every corner. Most of it is easily affordable, so my only problem would be deciding what I want.

Fortunately, A Toy Garden is a store in all of our neighborhoods and we can get in with just a click of the mouse. While the store sells some items from the big European brands like Haba and Selecta, it also sells toys that I haven't seen anywhere else. For example, this beautiful wooden puzzle and this handmade felt castle play set. For those who are desperately seeking non-Chinese toys this season, A Toy Garden offers one of the best selections of fair trade toys and toys made in the USA, Europe, and Thailand, along with just a few really great toys that are made in China, but aren't available elsewhere.

Many of the toys have customer reviews right on the page, so you can see what other customers liked about the toys. The store is well-organized, but there are surprises in each category, so I feel the need to look through everything before placing my order. I think Sonya's views on play must echo my own. She has a wonderful selection of dress-up clothes, tons of play silks, beautifully illustrated books, an assortment of small dishes for play cooking, dolls, gnomes, blocks, art supplies, craft kits and so much more. Oh, how to decide.

But, I did it and now I'm just waiting for my order to arrive. I'll tell you about our new toys when they get here, and you can bet I'll be doing Christmas shopping here, too.

A Toy Garden has generously given us a coupon code: STB1007, is good for 10% off, until the end of 2007. Sonya says "Remind folks to use my Gift Registry so they can fill it in and then share it with their relative and friends so their children will receive toys they'll love to have in their homes. I always offer FREE GIFT WRAP, and FREE SHIPPING for orders over $200. My customers always enjoy these two offers."

I've heard a lot of moms complain that the relatives give tons of plastic junk for Christmas and birthdays. And gift registries can help with this. You can say, "If you are looking for ideas, I have a wish list at (insert store of your choice) that has the kind of toys I wish little (insert child's name) had to play with." I think most relatives have no clue, so they go into their discount store and ask a customer with kids "What do you think my grandson would like?" So, making it easy is a good way to get what you want.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Toys in the car

I guess car safety is one of my obsessions. I have completed EMT training, my husband is a volunteer fire fighter/EMT and I've had many close friends who have been first responders of some type. I've seen and heard so much about the injuries that can occur from having loose objects in a car, and I'm very strict. For more about missiles, read this or visit which has tips on everything related to safe driving.

Of course, the flip side to having an empty car is that mom isn't nearly as safe of a driver when kids are bored and whiny. My solution is to allow soft, lightweight toys. A big favorite for my children are cloth books like the that rear-facing Linnea is "reading" in the picture. has a huge selection as does Borders. A few I really like are the Usborne cloth books like Mouse and Snail ($12.26), which have bright simple illustrations and fun textures, and the Roger Priddy cloth books like Snowy Bear and Friends and Fuzzy Bee and Friends ($8.95), which also have a variety of textures as well as crinkly parts and flaps and bits to pull. Haba-lovers might find it worthwhile to spend $15.99 on a Catherine Caterpillar or Max Mole. These books include a soft finger puppet and are available from I don't have these books and they received primarily poor reviews on Oompa.

Cloth books are a hit with both Arielle (3) and Linnea (11 months - today!).

Linnea has this airplane which fastens to her strap and has soft rings for chewing. There is also a bear in a car. The airplane has gotten mixed reviews from Linnea. It is very cute and is chewable, but doesn't hold her interest as long as a book or doll.

I know, I know! It has both plastic and is MIC (as are most of the board books), but it is made by a French company with an excellent safety rating and European standards require safer plastics. In the car, I think that potential missiles and unhappy children are greater safety hazards than unpainted toys that are made in China by companies with a good reputations. If anyone has other options that are not MIC, let me know!

Arielle loves dolls. Our Nicki dolls ($19.99) more or less live in our car seats. These are made in Germany out of all natural materials. We've had Nicki dolls around since Arielle was a baby, and these 8 inch, light-weight dolls are great companions in car seats, diaper bags, restaurants, and at home. Arielle still enjoys "Baby" after three years. I love the Kathe Kruse Poupe Rose ($16.99, also available in a boyish blue/green) for babies who still drop things.

A no cost option is to bring the smaller of the numerous stuffed animals that magically accumulate around a child out to the car and store them in a cloth bag. Make sure they are machine washable (as are all my suggestions, as they will fall into puddles and get stepped on/spilled on).

And, of course there are Arielle's ever present finger puppets, but that is another post.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Top Five List - What Makes A Great Toy

A younger Arielle enjoying a Great Toy

  1. Great toys run on imagination, not batteries.
  2. A great toy is open-ended; there are no rules about the right way to play. The toy goes wherever a child's imagination takes it.
  3. A great toy can be played with alone or with others.
  4. A great toy can be enjoyed for many years.
  5. A great toy is affordable.

Some great toys: cardboard boxes, play silks, tents, dress-up clothes, large light-weight blankets, balls, dolls, blocks, puppets, stacking cups............................

Friday, October 26, 2007

Look what we got! - the dolls have a bed.

I'd been looking for a doll bed for almost a year, but lately I've been finding dolls and puppets everywhere: resting between the couch cushions, sleeping in hats, even carefully tucked in under tissues in my tissue box. So, the time had definitely come to buy Arielle a doll bed.

I looked around, but it seemed that nothing was just right. I wanted something wooden and traditional and even went driving along back roads to find an Amish woodworker, but that didn't pan out. So, I Googled it.

Three Sisters Toys has some beautiful ones. I love the bright colors of the Colorful Doll's Cradle. The bright colors are reminiscent of Haba and would certainly go very nicely with our playroom; on the other hand, while playful and bright, it would clash with our "Fairy Princess Ballerina" pinks and pastels, and at almost $60, it is an investment toy. What if it wasn't the hit, I hoped it would be? I also liked the look of the slightly less pricey Wooden Cradle with Canopy, but I worried that the lovely wooden accents would just be too tempting (and dangerous) for eleven month-old Linnea who wants to climb everything. I sat at my computer debating my options, feeling like there had to be something better.

Thank Google, I decided to search again. This time I found just what I was looking for. Scott Crumpton of makes simple wooden doll cradles that are finished with just beeswax. And at $35, they are an excellent deal. The cradle arrived in 4 days and my daughters were very excited when we opened the package. It is sturdy and well made and held up well when my mini-heffalump Linnea decided to try it out for herself. At 18" by 12", it fits a 14" or 16" doll with room to spare, or even two dolls that really like each other. It will last for years of play and I expect that even my grandchildren will enjoy it. The picture was taken when Mommy-Arielle decided that Linnea could have the honor of baby-sitting.

It's a wonderful toy, but hasn't quite solved all my problems. Currently, there are finger puppets napping in Linnea's shoe.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Woo woo! I have a blog!

But tonight, I'm putting my girls to bed.