Monday, December 29, 2008
Denise is mom to Alexander (9), Raven (8) and Lenore (4). She started out making therapy dolls for Raven. Raven has been diagnosed with Russell Silver Syndrome, which is a rare failure to thrive condition. Through trial and error and a whole lot of crayon drawings from Raven, Denise designed a toy to help children articulate their feelings through play. Raven's therapists realized the potential of the toy and encouraged Denise to go into business.
Denise began sewing and selling the toy through the Hawaii Play Therapy Conference. She wanted to manufacture the toys, and expanded to include more play dolls to cover expenses. However, since Raven's health care is Denise's chief concern, that has been put on hold. In her eight years, Raven has needed specialists in cardiology, endocrinology, neurology, nephrology (kidneys), gastrointestinal medicine, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. She has a feeding tube and is fed with a feeding device overnight. Denise's earnings from the Lucky Pebble dolls currently supplement the cost of Raven's medical supplies.
Her mom says Raven has strawberry blond hair past her waist, big gray eyes, and she is smaller than her four year old sister. But despite her small size, Raven has a big imagination. The dolls are inspired by Raven's drawings and creativity. At Denise's house, the Little Girl Friend Dolls and the Matroyshka Sock Dolls are the most popular. The children helped create the Matroyshka Sock Dolls.
Linnea just walked by and got very excited about the pictures I had up on the screen. I can totally understand her excitement. The combination of bright colors and friendly expressions is pretty irresistible. And the dolls have their arms out as if to say "Hug me!"
I've been writing a lot obout the CPSIA lately. The CPSIA in it's current form will put Denise's business and many home industries which make toys, clothing, cloth diapers and other children's products out of business.
Denise wanted me to stress that she cares about toy safety and wants to be able to prove her toys are safe. She just need a cost-effective way to do so.
Like thousands of other crafts-persons, Denise purchases her supplies from sewing shops, hobby supply, and large chain stores across the United States. Most of the materials for the dolls come from major suppliers such as Magic Cabin, Joy's Waldorf Dolls, Fox River Mills, Jo-Ann Fabrics, and Discount Fabrics USA, but sometimes she'll buy fabric from an Etsy vendor. None of the fabrics are particularly exotic -- her most used fabrics are minky dot fabrics, Red Heel sock material, chenille, and wool tweed.
When Denise purchase materials and supplies to use in her dolls, she purchases these supplies as a consumer, just the same as if you or I bought a few yards of fabric to sew a dress or make felt food or a teddy bear. Our purchase should already have been certified safe to use in children's products, and it should have been thoroughly tested by the manufacturer. We deserve to know that it is safe for the use that we intend it for.
Just as we'd like safe toys, we want the security of knowing that materials and supplies that are used in children's products have been tested by the manufacturer, and have passed Consumer Product safety standards for each material. We should have that security whether we are making item for our own children, or items to sell.
Denise and other craft persons would like to see the law amended to permit vendor certification for supplies that are used in children's products. Testing of supplies is more cost-effective. This way, any company, large or small,could afford to comply, and individual consumers would also be protected. While Denise would be responsible for making sure she uses only certified-safe materials, the manufacturers of the materials would be responsible for certifying their safety both for Denise and for all the other artists, crafters and moms using those supplies.
However, without these changes, Denise is responsible for testing every doll, as each doll is unique. The cost of testing would run from hundreds to thousands of dollars, and producing and buying handmade children's items will no longer be affordable. For Denise, this will be devastating, as her income supplements the cost of Raven's medical supplies.
To find out how you can help, please click the bear in the sidebar.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
The set includes one snuggly puppy dog made in Latvia by Kathe Kruse, a wooden doghouse made in the USA by Little Colorado, and puppy dog accessories - a cotton velour dog bed, two wooden dog bones, a wooden water dish and a red leather collar with a detachable leash.
Arielle named her puppy Chocolate Tapdancey Licky-Barky. Chocolate is made out of cotton with wood stuffing and has weighted ("tappy") paws filled with quartz sand. Hence, Chocolate's love of tap-dancing. The set is also available with a white puppy with a brown spot over the eye. And, the puppy dog or accessories (if a child already has a special dog) are also available separately.
What surprised me was the size of the set. I didn't read the dimensions, so I was thinking tiny. But Chocolate is just the right size for cuddling and the dog house is 11"x11"x13", so it will need it's own special spot. But, this contributes to the feeling of a real pet.
Chocolate has been Arielle's best friend for the past week, and has attended "show and tell" at preschool where he was much admired, even amid toys with blinking lights and TV characters. She has been giving Chocolate dog food (wooden acorns) and a bone for a treat. She makes sure Chocolate has water and takes him for walks.
When I asked Arielle what she thought the very best toy that we had tried this year was, she immediately said "Chocolate". Linnea, of course, is totally jealous so we tied a ribbon around an old stuffed dog, so she could play as well. Her dog is called "Doggy".
The Puppy Dog Collection is a Magic Cabin exclusive, and I wanted to say a few words about Magic Cabin. Before internet shopping, when my big kids (now 16 and 19) were little, it was much harder to find high quality, natural toys. But, Magic Cabin filled that void. I was a single mom then, and I worked through my vacations so I could buy my kids the "good" toys. They still treasure their Waldorf dolls, and there are some Magic Cabin toys have been handed down to Linnea and Arielle. I get a little nostalgic when the catalog arrives.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Friday, December 12, 2008
Sorry, we have no shiny statues or great big checks. Just a big "YAY!!!!"
FIRST ANNUAL SARA'S TOY BOX TOP TEN TOY AWARDS
1. Best Eco-Friendly Toy: Green Toys Tea Set ($24.99)
The tea set is made from 100% recycled plastics. It is phthalate free and BPA free. It's recyclable. It can go outdoors or in the bath. It can be washed. What else is there to say?
Oh, yeah. It's lots of fun. We play with ours almost every day.
We also really liked the Cookware and Dining Set ($39.99). Click here for the original review.
2. Best American-made toy: Wooden Acorns ($5.99)
Acorns are very useful for feeding visiting squirrels, play cooking, counting, pretend dog food, just carrying around in a tote bag... We also like to put them in bean pots ($3.99).
3. Best Toy Under $10: Anamalz ($5.99-$6.99)
These adorable animals are made of organic maple wood and textile products, non-toxic glues, and paints. They were the almost Arielle's favorite toy this year. Arielle and Linnea love them.
4. Best Outdoor Toy: Baby Footprint Bucket ($6.09)
We play with our buckets in the sand, we play with them in the water, and we play with them in the snow. We fill them with bits of grass and flowers and make a dinosaur salad. We collect fallen leaves and dried plants for art projects. Everybody needs a good bucket, and this one is bright and colorful and just right for tiny hands. The spoon-shaped shovel is Linnea's favorite.
5. Best Game: Djeco Color Animals Domino ($16.99)
Arielle says this is "the one." It's one of several games we played this year that were simple, quick and educational. I love the bright, happy illustrations. But, Linnea and I prefer Djeco Animal Lotto Game ($16.99). I love watching her name and match the animals.
6. Best Learning Toy: Vilac ABC Wooden Blocks with Cart ($46.99)
These win for sheer versatility, and because they provide many years and many levels of play. Check out our review.
7. Best Travel Toy: Kathe Kruse Nicki Baby ($21.95)
We have several of these. They make nice gifts and they fit easily in a pocket or diaper bag. Their cute faces seem to inspire love. Best of all, they are soft and light weight and won't become dangerous flying objects in an accident.
8. Best Toy to Grow With: Holztiger Animals ($5.99 and up)
Start with a few and build a collection. These simple, but beautiful animals are great for all sorts of creative play.
9. Best Building/Stacking Toy: Eeeny, Meeny, Miny, Zoo Wooden Blocks from Haba ($49.99)
Haba blocks are always awesome, and they came out with some really beautiful sets this year. But, the animal blocks are hands-down the cutest. Linnea gets excited every time I take them out. And of course, they are compatible with other Haba block sets.
10. Best Toy for Cuddling: In our house Daddy Dolls get the most hugs, followed closely by the Bamboletta Dolls. They are both absolutely wonderful, I'm going to call it a tie.
Linnea's Toy of the Year: Lady bugs in a pot ($9.95)
These ended up being one of Linnea's favorite toys. Now that she is learning to count, it is very sweet to hear her "one, two, fee, four..."
She also loves to carry these around. Of course, they are tiny, and not really suitable for children under three, so she must be supervised.
Arielle's Toy of the Year: Magic Cabin's In the Dog House Set ($89.98)
Where is the review for this wonderful toy? I'm working on it and it will be up just as soon as I can get a good picture. This is the perfect gift for the child who really, really, really, really wants a pet, but isn't quite old enough. Chocolate Tapdancey Licky-Barky hasn't left Arielle's side since he arrived a week ago. The set comes with everything a doggy needs.
Toy store of the year: Stubby Pencil Studio
I am so happy to announce that Stubby Pencil Studio is our store of the year. I work with many wonderful store owners: Virginie from PetitBaby, Jennic from KangarooBoo, Bridgitte from Natural Pod, Anthia from UrthChild, and Sonya from A Toy Garden are all really sweet women who are great to work with, and I love their stores. Because I might be biased, I came up with my short list and then discussed this decision with other moms, all blog readers. The store that came up the most - for selection, for customer service, for helpfulness, for filling a real need, and for the nice little gifts - was Stubby Pencil Studio. Congratulations, Kate!
A bit of activism
We are very fortunate to get to try out so many great toys. It was tough to narrow our favorites down to only ten. However, natural and handmade toys in the United States are threatened by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). Please visit the Handmade Toy Alliance website for more information about how we can keep toys safe, yet still keep our favorite toy makers and toy stores in business.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
First up is the Plan Toys Vegetable Set ($17.99)
We love Plan Toys. They provide a great option for safe, environmentally-friendly Wooden toys available at a price that isn't shockingly more expensive than plastic. However, this was the first time that we tried play food toys from Plan. The foods are similar in size to Haba play food, and while they aren't quite as cute, but the felt accents are nice. These are a nice choice if you've bought a play kitchen for Christmas and are looking to stock it with play food on a budget.
We got to test their durability right away as Linnea decided to see how well the vegetables mixed with her cranberry juice. Yuck! While I don't suggest these for toddlers who want to drop things in their juice cups, they did clean up to be good as new and ready for lots of play.
"Eat your carrots, Mom!"
For Arielle's fourth birthday, she received the Haba Sunlight Jewelry Box ($24.99) and a necklace as a special gift from her Daddy who couldn't be there. It looks adorable in her pink princess room. With two little girls who love being pretty, it seems that I always need space for storing hair bows and necklaces. So, I was happy that Petit Baby sent the larger Haba Mia Jewelry House ($31.99).
This very pink and very girly jewelry box. It comes apart into two roomy sections. The top part has a mirror in the lid.
Since it is made of cloth, the jewelry box is manufactured in China in a factory with on-site Haba supervision. All Haba toys and Haba gifts meet European (EN71) and US (ASTM) standards.
Finally, more Djeco toys.
Djeco Color Animals Domino ($16.99)
I just really enjoy the fun, bright illustrations that Djeco uses. Dominoes are a classic picture recognition and number matching game. I remember playing dominoes as a child, although mine were not nearly this cute.
The game starts with each player being given 6 dominoes. The remainder of the dominoes are left in a stack. The first player places a domino on the table. Each player then takes turns putting down a domino by matching 2 identical pictures or 2 identical numbers. If a player can't make a match, she must draw dominoes from the pile until she can. The first player to have no dominoes left is the winner.
Arielle and I played with both with pictures and number dots.
Learning toys and Educational games like dominoes are a great fun way to help preschool-aged children develop pre-reading and early math skill while having fun with mom and dad. Four-year-old, Arielle easily followed the rules and won most of our games.
Don't forget, our readers save 10% off their orders at PetitBaby with code "Sara10" (not valid on sale items).
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Like many people, I was deeply concerned by the dangerous and poisonous toys that large Chinese toy manufacturers have been selling to our nations families. And, I was very pleased that Congress acted quickly to protect America's children by enacting the CPSIA.
However, I am very concerned that the CPSIA's mandates for third party testing and labeling will have a dramatic and negative effect on small toymakers in the USA, Canada, and Europe, whose toy safety record has always been exemplary.
Because of the fees charged by Third Party testing companies, many small toymakers will be driven out of business. Their cottage workshops simply do not make enough money to afford the $150 to $4,000 price tag per toy that Third Party testers are charging.
I support a reform of the CPSIA so that toys made in batches of less than 5,000 units per year or manufactured within the USA and trusted countries with established toy safety regimes such as Canada and the European Union be held exempt from third party testing requirements. They should be held to the same high quality standards defined by the CPSIA but will not need to pay for expensive third party testing or batch labeling.
These toy makers have earned and kept the public's trust. They provide jobs for hundreds and quality playthings for thousands. Their unique businesses should be protected.
[A copy of this petition will be sent to the CPSC.]
Sign the petition
Please pass this on and help get the word out.
Quiet Hours is not a political forum, but I am forwarding you the texts of two very important e-mails I recently received regarding the future of handmade toys and children's wares in the U.S. The first comes from our friends at the Handmade Toy Alliance; the second is from an importer working in the natural and handmade toys industry.
There is much here to read but I urge you to do so. Quiet Hours and other "niche" retailers were established in order to provide distinctive handmade goods to families seeking an alternative to mass-produced plastic items. We take great pride in not only providing safe toys but supporting individual craftspeople, international fair trade co-operatives, and small companies keeping the tradition of hand-workmanship and craft alive. We have also been thrilled to witness a resurgence in small-scale natural toy manufacturing and crafting in the U.S.
Our ability to support such makers, as well as families' access to their products, will be severely hampered (or eliminated altogether) unless modifications to the current Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) are made.
Read on for more details and ways you can act to keep a rich diversity of handcrafted children's items available in the U.S.
From the Handmade Toy Alliance:
Help Save Handmade Toys in the USA from the CPSIA
In 2007, large toy manufacturers who outsource their production to China and other developing countries violated the public's trust. They were selling toys with dangerously high lead content, toys with unsafe small part, toys with improperly secured and easily swallowed small magnets, and toys made from chemicals that made kids sick. Almost every problem toy in 2007 was made in China.
The United States Congress rightly recognized that the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) lacked the authority and staffing to prevent dangerous toys from being imported into the US. So, they passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in August, 2008. Among other things, the CPSIA bans lead and phthalates in toys, mandates third-party testing and certification for all toys and requires toy makers to permanently label each toy with a date and batch number.
All of these changes will be fairly easy for large, multinational toy manufacturers to comply with. Large manufacturers who make thousands of units of each toy have very little incremental cost to pay for testing and update their molds to include batch labels.
For small American, Canadian, and European toy makers, however, the costs of mandatory testing will likely drive them out of business.
- A toymaker, for example, who makes wooden cars in his garage in Maine to supplement his income cannot afford the $4,000 fee per toy that testing labs are charging to assure compliance with the CPSIA.
- A work-at-home mom in Minnesota who makes dolls to sell at craft fairs must choose either to violate the law or cease operations.
- A small toy retailer in Vermont who imports wooden toys from Europe, which has long had stringent toy safety standards, must now pay for testing on every toy they import.
- And even the handful of larger toy makers who still employ workers in the United States face increased costs to comply with the CPSIA, even though American-made toys had nothing to do with the toy safety problems of 2007.
The CPSIA simply forgot to exclude the class of toys that have earned and kept the public's trust: Toys made in the US, Canada, and Europe. The result, unless the law is modified, is that handmade toys will no longer be legal in the US.
If this law had been applied to the food industry, every farmers market in the country would be forced to close while Kraft and Dole prospered.
You can read our Proposal to Improve the CPSIA here.
How You can Help:
Please write to your United States Congress Person and Senator to request changes in the CPSIA to save handmade toys. Use our sample letter or write your own. You can find your State Representative here and Senator here.
Newsflash #2 - from a natural toy importer
As many of you may have heard, the company Selecta has decided to pull out of the USA market effective Dec. 31st 2008. We need your help to make sure other quality companies are not forced to make similar decisions.
While we all applauded efforts by the federal government to tighten the safety standards for toys, we all got much more than we bargained for. The law that was passed extends to all products directed to children 12 years of age and younger, and includes such things as clothing & toys and much more, with very few exceptions or exemptions. That wouldn't be so bad, but there are a few requirements that, if left as is, will force most small businesses (and many medium & large sized businesses) out of business....including retailers, work-at-home moms and independent crafters making products for children.
1. Existing Inventory: The law states that any affected product that does not meet the new standard (with the exception of phthalates) cannot be sold from the shelves after February 10th. The problem is that the law includes many new items that have not been under a previous regulation, and have not been tested. To test these items now, on the retail or wholesale level is prohibitively expensive, and/or simply not possible. So it is very difficult to confirm compliance (although most items in most companies would be compliant), and at the same time, penalties for selling anything that doesn't meet the standard are very stiff.
2. 3rd Party Testing by SKU: The law will require 3rd party testing in the future for each sku (or style). The large pair of jeans have to be tested separately from the medium size of jeans...even though all materials are the same. This makes testing prohibitively (impossibly) expensive. There are other ways to form a testing regimen and be just as satisfied with the results.
3. Markings: All products manufactured after August 12th, 2009 must have markings on the package and permanent markings on the product indicating where, by whom, and when the product was made. Large corporations can afford purchasing multiple dies to do this. Small companies cannot. European companies with limited sales to the USA likewise cannot.
4. Complexity: The law is extremely complex. Needlessly so. It is requiring companies to hire lawyers just to get a grasp of what is required of them. Also, the requirement of including certificates of compliance of each product shipped, with each product is overly burdensome. Electronic certificates has been approved, and will help, but even then there is a substantial cost to the additional administration---which does very little, if anything, to improve the safety of our toys.
5. Frequency of Testing: Experts are still trying to get a clear grasp of this. However, it is very possible that each batch must be tested/certified. This is fine for large companies running 10,000 or 100,000 pieces per batch. For small manufacturers, with small runs, it multiplies the enormous cost from point #2, even higher.
What this means is small, innovative companies that typically make niche products, will be forced out of business, or forced to narrow their product range and sell to the mass market. Product availability and selection will diminish. We will be primarily left with imported plastic toys from China. Yes, quite ironic isn't it.
The Subcommitte that put this law together is meeting to review its implementation on Wednesday. We need to send a message to them to revise the law or its implementation in ways that will maintain the integrity of the safety standards, but will not decimate the children's natural products market. Here are the details of the meeting:
The Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection will hold a hearing on Wednesday, December 10, 2008, at 10:00 a.m. in room 2123 Rayburn House Office Building. The hearing is entitled "Implementation of the CPSIA: Urgent Questions about Application Dates, Testing and Certification, and Protecting Children." This is an oversight hearing examining implementation of Public Law 110-314 (H.R. 4040, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA)). Witnesses will be by invitation only.
The staff briefing for this hearing will be held on Monday, December 8, 2008, at 4:00 p.m. in room 2322 Rayburn House Office Building.
Here is a link to the list of Committee Members. Please contact your Representative of Congress. If any one of these Representatives on the Subcommittee is YOUR representative, PLEASE be sure to call & email them to voice your concerns about the provisions in the law as they affect you and the children's products industry in general. Please do this as soon as you are able.
Here is a link to some suggestions for talking to our representatives from WAHM Solutions.
What else can you do? Pass this on in your e-newsletters, in your stores, among your friends. There is much disinformation in the market, and it is up to us to warn consumers and colleagues of the pending disappearance of the natural & specialty toys we have come to rely on in the recent years.
This is a critical time to raise our voices and be heard. Important issues that affect us will be discussed in a public way next week...NOT after Christmas.
What else can you do? Join the Handmade Toy Alliance, join the online community cpsia-central and become informed & involved. Contact the media, discuss this in forums and in your own online communities. It isn't just small businesses that are at risk, it is the very nature of the toys and products our children and grandchildren will have access to in the future.
Sign the petition. A copy will automatically be sent to the CPSC.
Selecta exits U.S. market over cost concerns
By Staff -- Playthings, 12/5/2008 1:52:00 PM
COSTA MESA, Calif.—Citing the increased cost of doing business under the new Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, German wooden toy maker Selecta Spielzeug will end distribution of its playthings in the U.S. effective Dec. 31, 2008.
According to a statement released by Europlay Corp., U.S. distributor for both Selecta Spielzeug and doll maker Käthe Kruse, meeting CPSIA’s new standards would necessitate an increase in Selecta’s product prices “by at least 50 percent, which would price these products out of the market.”
Selecta currently ensures its products comply with European EN71 and ASTM standards. Its decision to exit the U.S. market, the company stressed, “is based solely on costs; there have not been any issues with successfully completing the testing and certification process.”
“Selecta would like to thank the 1,200 US retailers carrying Selecta products and regrets the necessity of this decision,” said Matthias Menzel, Selecta Spielzeug’s managing director, in a statement released today.
Among the higher costs Selecta said were associated with meeting the CPSIA’s new guidelines were those related to testing procedures for products shipped to the U.S. that are “different than the testing procedures required for the rest of the world, resulting in separate testing for each product destined for the USA”; new shipment labeling regulations that “significantly increases the labor associated with shipping”; and product liability insurance increases "due to changing regulations and their varied interpretations."
Europlay will continue to distribute Käthe Kruse products in the U.S.
Monday, December 8, 2008
Holztiger animals are my favorite stocking stuffer. Santa jump started our collection last year with three little pigs. Three absolutely adorable pigs.
Holztiger Wooden Pig ($8.49)
Holztiger Wooden Piglet($5.99)
I just love their happy expressions.
Then we did a few more as birthday gifts. First, some dinosaurs... because we love dinosaurs.
Holztiger Wooden Tyrannosaurus rex ($11.49)
Next, some fun wild animals.
Holztiger Wooden Zebra ($14.99)
And, I've heard from the elves that Santa is planning a Christmas goose.
Holztiger Wooden Goose, Small ($6.99)
So, Arielle and I were very excited when Urthchild offered to send a few for review.
Holztiger Wooden Carthorse ($12.49)
Holztiger animals are a good basic toy that will be played with for many years - an open-ended staple like blocks and playsilks that can be played with in endless ways. And, they can be combined with blocks for zoos, or farms or stables. Or, they can graze on a playsilk for a totally different experience. A few small animals in a backpack can be friends on a long car trip, or a collection can take part in a complicated game of make-believe. Ours often visit the dollhouse.
We have no theme. I choose them because I like their simple forms and sweet faces, and that means that Arielle's imagination gets a good workout.
The sizes range from itty-bitty geese and chicks (1 1/2 inches) to great big giraffes and dinosaurs (7-8 inches) and prices range accordingly.
Holztiger toys are handcrafted in Germany from maple wood and are finished using non-toxic water-based paints and lacquers. I love that the wood grain shows through the paint as a reminder that the toy came from nature. The figures are free from harmful chemicals, lead, and heavy metals and are safety verified by German supervisory authorities
So, have I convinced you yet that these are the greatest toy ever? Here are the toys in action.
T. rex loves to snack on Elmo crackers. The figures are appropriate for children who no longer put things in their mouth (the small ones could be a choking hazard) and who can play gently. They are made of natural wood, not flexible plastic, so little details like horn and ears can break off if banged around excessively.
Urthchild has a very nice selection and they arrive beautifully packaged. I wanted to mention the wrapping, and I wish I had pictures to show you. They use 100% recycled Kraft paper with raffia ribbon to wrap up items. They always opt for recycled, eco-friendly options whenever possible. For example, their gift bags are 100% recycled cotton gift bags that can be used as grocery bags. (But they also offer 100% recycled, soy-based ink paper wrap for people who like traditional gift wrap). UrthChild has offered our readers 10% off with the code "STB1208". It expires 12/15/2008.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Some featured brands are Baufix (Austria), Fagus (Germany), and NIC (Germany).
We've actually been hoping to try Baufix. Linnea just adores tools. When I have to fix or assemble something, she likes to follow right behind me with her "hammah" and "skoos".
Baufix Starter Set ($49.95)
Alma, if you are reading, they also have a workbench.
Fagus Firetruck ($110)
NIC Toys - Creamobil Sweeping Machine ($66.40)
Karen, Carl's mother says "The NIC toys are even better quality than Fagus - heavy and sturdy!" These are toys made for action.
Carl has a blog where he writes about the his life and the store. It is very cute and a fun read.