Friday, February 29, 2008

Store Review: Easter at Quiet Hours Toys

One of my favorite sites to find a unique gift that is sure to be treasured is Quiet Hours Toys.

Carey, the mom-owner of this site, puts her efforts into finding beautiful and natural toys and children's items from around the world. These aren't the same toys that you see everywhere else. Many of these toys are limited edition items that are handcrafted by work from home moms, made by fair trade cooperatives, or are imported from European artisans and craft persons.

Because so many of the items are individually handcrafted, many of the toys at Quiet Hours are on the pricey side. Carey realizes this, so each item is of the highest quality and made to last. If you sign up for the mailing list, you will be alerted of both sales and new products.

I've been admiring these Matroyshka dolls ($25.00) which are handcrafted from cotton socks and colorful kawaii fabric. These are made with love by Denise Mollison and her children who have inspired her designs.

When I was a little girl, I received paper dolls for being brave when I went to the dentist. And, some of my best memories are of my mom making extra outfits for them. It really made me feel special and was our bonding time. These bunny paper dolls ($16.95) and their outfits are so adorable and old-fashioned. They'd be a perfect Easter treat for a little girl who has shown she can be careful with toys (and has no little sister to bite their heads off!).

Quiet Hours Toys also has a fabulous selection of handmade play food. I have a smaller set of knit produce by Jess Nicole ($46.00). These are made of plant-dyed wool and the pumpkin truly is as detailed and vibrant as it appears in the picture.

I've been wishing for Lilly Bean play food. It's made out of felt and very detailed. This Easter set ($22.00) would be a sweet (but not sugary) treat in an Easter basket.

Isn't the Princess and the Pea set ($90) just lovely?

Or these embroidered birds ($52)? This one-pf-a-kind set is made in Germany from vintage cotton and hand embroidered. It would be perfect in a girly nursery.

I could go on and on about the beautiful treasures at Quiet Hours Toys. It is a truly special site, but I always find it hard to make my decision with so many delightful options. And, I haven't even mentioned the shoes.....

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Cabin Fever!!!

Although some of you are enjoying springtime, in the Northeast we've still got another 6 weeks of winter to go. And now that the holidays are over, the big kids are in school, and we have cabin fever. I brainstormed with Sonya of A Toy Garden about ideas for surviving indoor winter time with children:

1. Art

When they were younger, Merlin and Elfie enjoyed using modeling beeswax ($22.95) to form animals, flowers and imaginary creatures. The beeswax starts out hard, but is softened by the warmth of ones hands and it smells delicious. The beeswax is reusable and is both a therapeutic and calming activity for children. And, adults enjoy working with beeswax, too.

A variation on this is candle making. One can use the modeling beeswax to decorate store bought candles or roll your own candles with beeswax sheets ($19.95). If you don't have a wild toddler (Linnea thinks anything on the table is fair game), use their candles as a centerpiece for dinner time! Merlin and Elfie considered dinner by candlelight fancy (even if it was just soup and grilled cheese!), and would always be on their best behavior.

A pair of scissors and paper and some Stockmar Crayons ($10.95-$18.95) will provide hours of fun. Add some tape and glue and they could play forever! For a change, try drawing a story on a long roll of adding machine paper or decorating a cardboard box to use as a house, boat or spaceship.

Younger children can do arts and crafts as well. My toddlers all enjoyed tearing pictures of babies out of magazines and making collages - just stock up on glue sticks. Or, cut some scrap yarn into short pieces and let them glue hair on a stick figure baby or fur on a teddy bear.

2. Crafts!

Older children will enjoy needle felting, wet felting, weaving, pot holder kits, knitting, crocheting, basket making, paper cutting and shaping, paper quilling or painting. A Toy Garden has a large selection of craft supplies and kits. If you made the Forest Gnome Family Kit ($19.95), you could then make up stories about how they work hard to wake up the flowers and bring spring to to the forest.

3. Writing on windows

Sonya recently returned from a vacation to the snow, and the children with her (ages 4-12) all enjoyed playing with Window Crayons on the glass sliding door of her hotel room. We haven't tried this in winter, but we used this as an activity for children (ages 2 and up) at a family reunion, and even the adults joined in. There's something that just feels mischievous about writing on windows.

4. Puzzles

If you have both older and younger children, a magnetic wooden puzzle is fun and the pieces stay of the floor. This one ($35.95) comes in a tin box from Germany is great for quiet indoor use or travel as well. It is also ideal for those times that mom's hands are full of baby and she needs her older child to do something quiet for a while.

5. Books

We love books and stories on CDs. When everyone is hyper, I sit with a book and they all snuggle in to listen. One of Arielle's favorites is In a Nutshell ($7.95). It is a beautifully illustrated story about the life of a tree and how life passes from one organism to another.

Encourage pre-schoolers to do a play or puppet show with silks and a few finger puppets after they’ve read a favorite story. For this age, simple, repetitive stories like The Three Little Pigs or The Three Bears translate well into play. Get out the video camera and make it a movie.

6. Music!

Music sooths the savage beast -- or at least the rambunctious toddler. Ply along with a favorite CD, get up and dance (a good workout for kids and mom), or start a musical band and have a parade around the house.

7. Cooking

Children love cooking. Arielle makes a great chocolate pudding for dessert. The our Waldorf Kindergarten Snack Book or Waldorf Book of Soups have some great and simple ideas.

8. Tea Party

Invite some neighbor children or grandparents over for a little tea party with real yummy treats to eat and juice or tea to drink. Let the children make their own invitations for the party.

Or brave the snow, and bring the tea party to an elderly neighbor who can't navigate the ice.

9. Pretend Play

Use your imagination and play with Play Silks, Play Clips, and dress-up clothes. This is a huge favorite at our house. We are often princesses of pirates, or Star Mommy and Starielle who live in space and eat star-shaped toast for breakfast.

10. Blocks

Play with wooden blocks and a few wooden or felt animals and figures. Build a zoo or a rain forest or an animal train. Talk about the outdoor adventures you'd like to have in the spring.

11. Letter writing

Make Easter cards or generic “I’m thinking of you” cards for relatives! Or use some "real" stationary and write letters to Grandma (or Daddy). Make a mail box out of a cardboard box and write each other letters. Then the child can deliver them, and you can read them together.

12. School

Stock up on inexpensive workbooks, lined paper and pencils and play “I’m at school”.

Arielle loves this!

13. Indoor hopscotch (suggested by my friend Tasha)

Use masking tape to make a hopscotch pattern on the floor. You can find the rules here. Or, play indoor Hide and Seek (set rules about where it is OK to hide).

14. Clean the house

Play at housework. Arm the kids with a few rags and a spray bottle of water and clean the table. Let them pretend to wash dishes in the kitchen sink. Just put down towels first, so the floor doesn't get slippery.

I wish my computer wasn't being repaired because I have a great picture of Merlin doing dishes at 18 months that I'd love to insert here. You'll just have to imagine it.

15. Go to the movies

If children (or even parents) aren't feeling well, pretend you're at the movies. We set up the couch with blankets, drinks (in covered bottles) and snacks and watch our favorite stories on DVD. Scholastic has a wonderful selection of classic children's stories. This keeps everyone in one place and relatively calm.

I'm sure all of you have great ideas as well. I'd love to hear them.

Sonya has given us a new coupon, STB1008. It is for 10% off an order over $25.00, and good through 3/31/08 on all items, including those mentioned in this post. Thank you, Sonya!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Linnea's Push Toy

Thanks for all the great suggestions! I agree; Selecta was the way to go. I chose this one ($30) at Rabbit & Duck. Linnea loves it. I took it out of the box and pushed it across the floor and she burst out in huge giggles at the sight of the waggling tail.

I don't now if Rabbit & Duck is going out of business (and I hope not), but they currently have 30% off all toys on their site.

Vilac toys at

I think I have a new favorite toy. The Vilac Animal Counting Game ($44.00) is a surprisingly versatile stacking/sorting/counting/pretend play toy that is equally loved by both Linnea (15 months) and Arielle (3). Linnea enjoys moving the beads on the wire and putting the stacking pieces on the rods. Arielle prefers to take the little animals off and have them act out her imaginative stories. I wish I could get pictures, but she's missing her Daddy and has been super uncooperative about this. I'll try to add some later.

Vilac Toys are made in France and Thailand (under Vilac supervision) and meet all european and US safety standards. They come in bright yellow boxes, that just look like fun. PetitBaby has a very extensive selection.

One of my favorite Vilac products is the Alphabet Magnets ($17.80). I grew up with a plastic alphabet on the refrigerator and can't imagine a kitchen without the ABC's. It's nice to have a non-plastic alternative, and these are beautiful.

Linnea also enjoys this stacking toy. The Vilac Animal Stacking Blocks ($19.00) are large and baby friendly (that is, she can't stick them in her mouths and they stand up to being thrown). Right now she likes the feeling of accomplishment that she gets when she puts all the blocks on the pegs (and our applause, of course). But, as she gets older, she'll be able to match the heads with the bodies as Arielle does.

And of course, the Vilac Baby Phone ($12.60). We have one for each girl, and (while they still prefer my cell phone) they pretend to call Daddy all the time.

Aside from Vilac toys, PetitBaby is also a great source for Kaloo (oh so soft!) and Noukie's stuffed toys, as well as Haba, Sigikid, Anamalz and other brands. You can search specifically for toys made in Turkey, France, Germany or Lithuania. And, they accept PayPal.

PetitBaby has very generously given us a discount code (Sara) that is good for 15% off their toys.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Store Review- doudou bebe

doudou bebe is an online shop based out of Toronto, Canada. Michelle, the owner of the store, strives to give her customers the very best. What this means to you is that she offers very few MIC products, that her toys meet strict safety guidelines and that she only offers things that she would want in her house. After acquiring too many of the "must haves" that often come along with raising a family Michelle realized that while, "the stuff I needed was pretty limited, there were lovely practical things that would bring a little bit of prettiness into our harried life."
Lovely practical things are not hard to find at doudou bebe. The kids and I were fortunate enough to test out three of the great toys offered on the site. All three are made in Vermont and use non-toxic paints and glues. The came simply dressed in a standard cardboard box but the real treat was the filler used to cushion the toys. The kids were more than content to dig through the shredded magazines that had kept our toys safe and sound. I loved that this was a totally recycled and recyclable packing medium and the kids loved that they had found another way to torture the cat.

Ah, but the toys themselves. What I noticed first was the smell, or rather the lack of smell, coming from the toys. There were no odors, no scary fumes that force a parent to "air out" their children's toys. The rattle when straight into my little ones mouth, as did the pilot of the airplane.
The bi-plane ($35.56USD/$35 Canada) and its pilot and co-pilot have not left the children's side. The fact that a nearly five year old and a one year old can play for extended periods of time with the same toy speaks to its universal appeal and longevity. So far is has proven to be a sturdy toy as well. My rambunctious boy has had "terrible crashes" multiple times yet nothing has fallen off and there are no chips of paint missing. A box store airplane would not have withstood the torture this beautiful aircraft has.
The heirloom baby rattle ($13.72USD/$13.50 Canada)has a soothing, not nerve jangling bell and is just perfect for her little hand. Alli is big time into music and dancing. One shake of the rattle and she lights up, swaying side to side, reaching for this sweet little toy.
The cherry on the top was this ingenious little twirling toy they call the Spinny Speller($11.18 USD /$11 Canada). It's three letter combinations were really and truly perfect for Jackson's newly acquired reading skills. The pictures show how engaged he was and how hard he was trying to sound each word out. As a mama there is really no substitute for a great well made plaything that showcases a child's newest talent. My heart just melts as he diligently sounds out words like "HUG" "BAT" or my personal favorite "CAD". We went to the dictionary to find the true meaning of this word. Turns out it means, "An impolite gentleman." In my house the word is now liberally sprinkled into our everyday conversations. "Jackson you cad! Please don't burp in your sisters face!" Love it!A big thank you to doudou bebe for gracing our home with such lovely, safe and simple toys. We couldn't be happier!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Thank you! That's So Childish

Thank you PAX Baby and That's So Childish!

A surprise pocket baby made to look like Linnea arrived on Valentine's Day. Linnea loves her.

"BayBup" is stuffed with baked organic millet and has a nice hefty feel. She smells deliciously of lavender and is decorated with a felted heart. She is just beautiful and is well made enough to withstand the plenty of enthusiastic toddler love that she is getting. Linnea's doll is about a third of the size of a regular dolly.

The flower wand was a hit as well. Fairy Princess Arielle is casting magic spells. Will spring come soon?

Jillian has been busy. Her site is growing and she has new products since my review, and more coming. I just looked at the PAX Baby site and saw these beautiful Bella Girl Tutu's.

The tutus are $30-$35 and come in many variations of colors and trims. You get to choose. So pretty!

How Mysterious!

Is your chocolate chip cookie missing? Don't worry, Detective Arielle is here to save the day. She's got her super duper magnifying glass and if there's a clue around, she'll find it.
Aha! a clue!

It was..... Linnea!

Our magnifying glass is an old one that we bought from Magic Cabin long ago, but recently it has been rediscovered and has received a lot of use. I could not find a similar one on-line, but Three Sisters Toys sells a similar one (designed in Germany, MIC) for $7.90.

Mystery solved!

Magnifying glasses are also great distractions during toddler diaper changes.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Toy Review: Anamalz at

I've been hearing so much about Anamalz ($5.99-$6.99) and was very excited to have the opportunity to review them.

Anamalz are made maple, fabric, string and non-toxic glues and paints. They are designed in Australia and made in China. They meet all European toy standards. The animals are flexible and can stand independently.

A Lion, Zebra, Elephant and Hippo arrived in the mail last week. I was surprised at how large these animals are. They fit nicely for a child's hand and won't get lost in the couch cushions, but one could also slip a few in a diaper bag. As soon as they were unpacked, Arielle decided that the Anamalz needed cages. Some small cardboard boxes made excellent cages. A few hours later, I realized that Arielle had been suspiciously quiet for quite some time. She was still sitting on the floor with the Anamalz giving each one its favorite imaginary food. Her lion is a vegetarian and loves munching grass.

A few people mentioned Anamalz as excellent stocking stuffers for Christmas. It's a little late for that, but a few farm animals peeking out of an Easter basket would be a lot of fun. And, the price makes them an affordable, but nice, gender-neutral choice for birthday gifts.

Blog readers can save 15% on Anamalz and other wonderful toys at PetitBaby using the code "sara" until 5/01/2008.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Greatest Toy Ever

I'm always looking for the perfect toy. It my dreams it is something that would work for one-year-old Linnea AND for three-year-old Arielle, something that won't break despite the best efforts of two wild little monkeys, something that will calm them down when they are fussy and use up their energy when they are hyper. And, it would be safe, educational, and require no supervision. If I had this wonderful toy, I could get the laundry done, wash the floor, write a book, and have a few minutes to myself to do nothing or conquer the universe.

Like I said, in my dreams. In reality nothing this great could exist, right? Well yesterday I realized that this toy does exist, and until very recently, we had one at our house. It was called a Daddy.

A few weeks ago, our Daddy put on his Army outfit and went away for a while. He's helping other mommies and daddies to fight monsters, so their children can be safe, and he'll be back when all the Daddy Kisses in the jar are gone.

It is easy to get caught up in buying toys and looking for the perfect plaything. But, in reality, the greatest toy is a Mommy or a Daddy that gives a child a little time and undivided attention.

I am only just appreciating how much that means. I think I wasted too much time worrying about the fact that I always cleaned the bathroom and I always mopped, rather than appreciating that the time the girls spent with their Daddy while I did these chores, was more worthwhile and more fun than any toy I could pick out - even when he was sleeping and they were jumping on his head.

What I really wanted to do is let my husband know that he is missed and appreciated. And to let my readers know, that although posting has been slow, I have not forgotten the blog and will be posting as much as possible.

PAX Baby - Store Review

One thing I love best about doing this blog, is that I can use it to promote both mom-owned businesses and mom-made toys. PAX Baby is a the creation of Jillian, a stay at home mom with 4 children under 5 years old.

Her store features products that help make child-raising a peaceful experience (or, something a little bit closer to it). She sells beautiful Beco baby carriers, cloth diapers, pretty swaddling blankets and phthalate-free, BPA-free, PVC-free bottles - and TOYS! The selection includes Sarah's Silks play silks, costumes and canopies, play clips, colorful cloth balls and blocks, Yellow Label Kids play foods, and handmade treasures by That's So Childish.

Yellow Label Ice Cream Rattles (3 for $27)

Toys from Yellow Label Kids are made by hand by an artisans who are paid living wages, in accordance with Fair Trade practices.

That's So Childish is a line of dress-up clothing and play things handmade by Blue Reid. They are lovely and expensive, but perfect for a special birthday gift.

Magical flower wands ($12)
What a beautiful way to wish for spring!

Handmade Waldorf inspired doll ($50). The doll is filled with organic millet infused with organic lavender essential oil. Head and hands are filled with unbleached wool, and the hair is crocheted from alpacha yarn. The body and hat made from 100% recycled sweater. Requires regular hugging!

Mini-princess hats ($20)

Jillian primarily works on during nap-time, so the shopping cart feature hasn't been added yet, but will be soon. In the meantime, to place your order or make an inquiry, you can email her at or call at 805-708-2500 and ask for "Mommy".