Friday, March 21, 2008

Organic Egg Dying

Sonya from A Toy Garden send me this link to instructions for Organic Egg Dying.

Happy Easter!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Mary' Softdough

When Arielle was two, we had a Play-Do party for her birthday. I covered the table with paper and Arielle and her guests had a wonderful time squooshing and mooshing dough, rolling it out and cutting it with cookie cutters. After the party, each guest took a container home. But, Play-Do stinks and has mysterious dyes and ingredients that can't be pronounced. It can't be good for you.

One option is to make your own dough.

1 cup flour
1 cup warm water ( I hear you can add Kool-Aid for color/scent, but that sounds messy)
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon oil
1/4 cup salt
food coloring

Mix all ingredients, adding food coloring last. Stir over medium heat until smooth. Remove from pan and knead until blended smooth. Place in plastic bag or airtight container when cooled. It will last for a long time.

Or maybe it will just last until you really need a quick distraction. Then you find out that the dough has gone moldy or that someone has left the bag open and it has dried out.

Or maybe, you are just busy or would rather play than cook dough.

Mary's Softdough is a soft, natural modeling dough made in Eugene, Oregon. It is made of flour, water, salt, cream of tartar, soybean oil, food coloring (all stuff we have at home) and sodium benzoate (a food preservative that keeps it from getting moldy). It lasts a year when stored properly and comes in a variety of pretty colors (even glitter! and glow in the dark) and yummy scents. Prices range from $2.95 (a small tub of a single color) to $18.50 (for a play set with 4 colors, a roller and cookie cutters).

We received six small tubs of Naturally Scented Softdough ($3.25 for a small tub) and a dough play set (roller an cookie cutters - all made in Oregon) from Terrapin Toys, the makers of Mary's Softdough. The dough is nothing like Play-Do. The scents are delicious, strong (but not overpowering), and actually smell like peppermint (red), oranges (orange), lemons (yellow), lavender (purple), vanilla (blue), or - Arielle's favorite - rose (pink). And the dough has a softer, squooshier (scientific term!) feel. Definitely a more pleasing sensory experience.

While the dough is intended for ages three and up, toddlers love dough. I let Linnea play with the lavender and peppermint dough specifically because it did not smell like food that she eats (rose would have been OK as well, but Arielle is possessive). Linnea, who no longer sits still for anything, spent a happy hour squishing and mashing the dough. She really enjoyed taking it in and out of the cup, flattening it, and poking holes with her fingers.

Arielle played for with it much longer - at least a few hours each day since the dough arrived! Chef Arielle enjoys rolling out pizzas and covering them with toppings. She also enjoyed cutting squirrels with the squirrel-shaped cookie cutter and making them nuts and acorns. She sat in one place, chattering away happily, while I cleaned dried oatmeal off highchairs. Yay!!!

Speaking of cleaning, clean-up was easy. Little crumbs swept right up, no problem.

Mary's Softdough is available directly from Terrapin Toys and from many other of our favorite retailers of natural toys. Mary let me know that she also has 2oz tubs with a cookie cutter inside available ($1.75 each) for party favors or maybe for stuffing next year's Easter Eggs. Hmmm....

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Another awesome store - Natural Pod

Natural Pod is a Canadian store (although they do ship to the U.S. - the rates depend on order size) located in British Columbia. I first became familiar with Natural Pod while I was looking for information about Bamboletta Dolls. Natural Pod is one of only a few sites that stocks these amazing Waldorf-style dolls.

Bamboletta Doll - Apple ($135 CAD)

As far as I'm concerned, these are the most beautiful dolls out there(although very pricey and probably worth every penny). Each doll is individually handmade using 100% cotton interlock fabric from Holland and stuffed with Romley lamb’s wool. Safely tucked inside the tummy of each one of the dolls are three crystals – quartz, fluorite and carnelian – minerals that are thought by some to help produce a calming and grounding effect upon children. The dolls have serenely neutral facial expressions that encourage children to engage in open play, reflecting back to the child whatever emotion is timely and appropriate, whether happy, sad, or somewhere between. Obviously, a lot of time and care goes into each doll.

But, I can't afford one yet. Fortunately Natural Pod has many wonderful and affordable toys as well :) Arielle reviewed a few of these.

Yesteryear Clothespin Set ($8.99 CAD)

Organic Everyday Apron ($29.95 CAD)

The Clothespin set includes ten very sturdy wooden clothespins and a 9' line in a little fabric bag. The apron is adjustable to fit ages 3-5, made of sturdy organic cotton with a gender neutral trim.

Arielle spent a few hours busily washing her doll clothes and hanging them up to dry. You'll love this -- I came by with my camera and she said "I am busy and have a lot of work to do now, Mommy. I don't have time for you to take any pictures." Hmmm... have I been spending too much time on housework?

If you are a nice mom with a waterproof floor, you might consider giving your child a few bowls of water and letting her really wash the clothes. Put down a lot of old towels -- we tried this today and had wonderful time, but it was messy. While Arielle washed clothes, Linnea scooped water with a ladel and measuring cups.

What a fun way to role play and work on motor skills.

Olden Days Iron ($13.99 CAD)

After the doll's clothes are washed, they must be ironed. A few weeks ago, I was ironing a few things and the girls were watching me like it was the most interesting thing they had ever seen. I don't iron very often. This iron is made of walnut and maple and runs on imagination, so it never burns little fingers. Natural Pod also offers a child-sized wooden ironing board ($26.99 CAD) although Arielle quite happily ironed on her table. The set would make an excellent gift for a three to five year old.

Crocheted Market Bag ($14.95 CAD)

Linnea got to help review this bag. She took it while Arielle was ironing and had a great time putting blocks in and taking them out. Arielle loves shopping bags. This one is 8"x8" and just the right size for shopping at the pretend market. It also holds plenty of pretend cupcakes (rocking horses love cupcakes).

Natural Pod specializes in well made natural toys that promote creative play. Other treasures available include Fagus trucks, art supplies, stacking toys and blocks, play silks, dress up clothes and many other wonderful things that inspire imaginations. A few of my favorites (on my wish list) are:

Fairy House Kit ($11.95 CAD) and Fairy Doors or windows ($14.95-$24.95 CAD)

Now that the flowers are coming out, you may want to attract a fairy to your garden. These kits have everything you need to make a tree or old stump into a perfect home for fairies or elves.

Cardboard Rocket ($73.00 CAD)

When Arielle was two, every bedtime story had to begin with "One day Arielle found a rocket ship..." and then she and I would make up an adventure for her. Imagine where a rocket ship like this could take you....

Wooden tool set ($28.00 CAD)

We live in a wonderful 19th century farmhouse, but it is forever needing fixing-up and repairs. In the fall when work was being done on the outside of our house, Arielle and Linnea dragged their play tools to the window and hammered along with the workers. This sturdy little toolbox has everything a little carpenter needs to get the job done and is much better priced than a similar set I saw elsewhere.

Thank you Bridgitte and Natural Pod! Natural Pod is offering our readers 10% off their first purchase at Natural Pod with code "sarastoybox10" until 4/30/2008.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Store Review: KangarooBoo

Every time I take a look at the KangarooBoo website, there is something new. A few weeks ago, it was wooden toys from Estia. And then, there were beautiful French dolls from Petitcollin. This made deciding what to write about tough.

But I definitely wanted to write! Aside from offering us wonderful toys, KangarooBoo donates a portion of every sale to child-related charities. This takes place automatically during the checkout process, and the customer chooses which charity the money goes. If no choice is made, it goes to a default charity.

Currently, the default charity is Alex's Lemonade Stand. The Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation (a registered 501c3 public charity) evolved from a young cancer patient's front-yard lemonade stand to a nationwide fundraising movement to find a cure for pediatric cancer.

Jennic, the site owner of KangarooBoo, is a cancer survivor in her 6th year of remission and a mom to two children, ages 2 and 4.5. She and her husband (who designed the website) feel very strongly about making a difference, however little it may seem. They believe that everything has to start from somewhere and are grateful to all those who advocated throughout the last many decades. They hope their own efforts will be amplified and multiplied with the support of others.

The site can be navigated in many ways - by category, brand, child's age, country of origin, new arrivals, on-sale, NOT Made in China, and also by tag.

Now for toys!

Haba Fantasia ($29.90)

Apparently, the greatest toy that I ever bought for Arielle is the Fantasia magnet game. On the day my order from KangarooBoo, I gave it to Arielle to play with while fussy, teething Linnea napped. Arielle spent a few hours talking non-stop about how it was the toy she always dreamed of :) It's basically magnetic pattern blocks with a metal board (the stick-on magnets need to be attached prior to playing), but there are cute Haba faces and patterns. It's been a few weeks, and it is still her favorite.

But what I really want to do in this review is highlight some brands that are not as easy to find.

Petitcollin dolls was founded in 1856 and offers a huge line of classic vinyl dolls (boy dolls, girl dolls, ethnic dolls) that are still being made in France, Many of the steps are still done by hand. Prices start at $32.00.

Marie-Francoise ($78.50) is a 16” tall doll whose limbs and body are made of vanilla-perfumed phthalate/BPA-free vinyl. Her adorable outfit and shoes are removable. She can be bathed and her hair can be washed. She comes with blonde, red or brown hair and the Easter Bunny is bringing a blonde one to Arielle. She is currently hiding in the laundry room where we have deep intellectual discussions about how best to remove blueberry jelly from pretty party dresses. She is even prettier in real life and the vanilla scent is very subtle. Her toenails are painted a very pale girly pink, so she is definitely a "big girl" doll. Arielle is going to be thrilled.

Estia is a small German company established about 12 years ago. Estia makes some of the toys themselves and also gathers toys from European Artisans in Germany, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland, and from a Thai company as well.

Arielle (of course) really enjoyed the finger puppets ($10.90 for a set of 3).

But, Jennic tells me that the threading animal games are very cool, as are the very unique push-along toys and pull toys. And that the airplanes are also very well made.

Push-along Hedgehog ($13.90)

Zid Zid Kids are the creation of a Moroccan & American husband/wife couple who established the company in 2003 in Morocco. Their designs capture the vibrant and rich colors of Morocco and are all handmade by local artisans. All of their items are handmade and very well done. The fabrics are thick and colorful. I love the animal pillows ($35.90) and have ordered a few to bring a touch of spring to our playroom.

Elephant Animal Cushion ($35.90)

Flensted Mobiles are made by a Danish company established in 1954. The company is still owned and run by the same owner/designer Christian Flensted, his wife, his son and his daughter-in-law. Flensted Mobiles are very well designed, light weight, and with ever so slight air movements, the mobiles turn and twist to create harmonic and balanced movements. No batteries.

They distribute parts to their employees every two weeks who then put the mobiles together at their own homes. At the end of the two weeks, a company car goes around to the 75+ employees' homes to collect the finished mobiles and to distribute new parts. They have been doing this for over thirty years, long before it was popular to be "green". It is estimated if each employee lives 5 miles from the factory, and each gallon of gasoline can go for 20 miles, then each year about 7500 gallons of gas are saved by the Flensted company's production method! KangarooBoo has one of the largest selections of Flensted mobiles on the web.

Piggie Mobile

Vulli: is another French company who's been making teethers and other toys since 1961. Many of their teethers are made from 100% natural rubber, and are phthalate-free, BPA-free, and painted with food quality paint.

Sophie the Giraffe ($18.90)

Jennic's enthusiasm for the toy is contagious. They have recently added Plan toys.

KangarooBoo has offered our readers 5% off their purchase with the code STB5. It expires 2 months from the date of this posting. Orders $75 or higher have free UPS ground shipping.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Toys from France at Comptoir d'Enfance

If you love French toys or classic characters such as Barbar, The Little Prince or Elmer the Elephant, you may be interested in Comptoir d'Enfance. This new internet store was started by Emma who came to California from Paris only last year and wanted to introduce French style to American children. She features Vilac Toys, decorative wall decals and stick-on chalk boards, French books, and organic babywear.

Wooden Barbar Dominos by Vilac ($30)

Wooden Bear Puzzle ($18)

Vilac train with blocks ($30)

What I really like are the large chalkboard wall decals - the elephant ($65) is the largest and priciest. The decals can be placed on any clean, dry, flat, smooth surface and then removed. Kids can draw on the walls and then they wipe clean. What a neat idea!

The other product that I really liked is the Princess Castle wall decal ($70). This decal is large enough to be used as a headboard and a different layout (without the Mickey Mouse head) is shown on the site. A very nice (and easy) way to make a princess's room special.

Emma has graciously offered us a coupon code. The code "Sara" can be used for 10% off until 3/31/2008.