Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Update - columns from Little Sapling Toys

I mentioned that I wasn't able to resist this.

Free-play Column Set infant/toddler toy ($26.00)

These very smooth, satiny blocks arrived last week. They've been playing very nicely with Palumba's Building Sticks ($9.99, reviewed in November 2007 and a favorite at our house) and a few wooden friends. Arielle loves that she can now build multi-story structures.

The columns are definitely adding another dimension to her block play.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Princess Nimble Thimble

And another teeny, tiny handmade treasure from Etsy.

Princess Nimble Thimble , Dannielle, is another Etsy artisan who makes cute little dolls. These mermaids, fairies, princesses, elves, and children are available both with and without painted faces. I chose faces because they look so sweet and friendly.

Elf or Gnome ($9.50)

Of course, these were a big hit with my girls who like both princesses and teeny tiny things. The dolls are about 2.5 inches tall - just the right size to be a pocket friend while at the dentist or to be rescued from a block tower. They remind me a lot of the "Halfpenny Dolls" that my older children played with. They are too small for most doll house furniture, but worked fine with the doll house stacker.

Arielle says "They are pretty and the dragon won't eat them." So, it must be true. Again, the workmanship is perfect and these dolls are sturdy and meant to play - just not with children who still put toys in their mouths. The girls like to combine them with their Juicy Bugs and needle-felted animals for extra-fun adventures.

Here are some live-action pictures.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Piece-ful Farm from Magic Cabin

Pieceful-Farm ($34.98)

This sweet toy from Sevi is a 7 x 7 x 1.5 inch wooden box containing little wooden play figures. These include a little farm mill with water wheel, a barn or hen house, a tree, a duck, a chicken ,a rooster, a tub of water, a laundry line stretched between two poles that insert in the box, laundry that can hang on the line, and a pretty doll with long blond ponytails. And, playing with this can keep my girls busy for hours. Arielle particularly enjoys the farm birds and loves to have the "Princess" take care of them.

The game is suggested for ages three and up, but we've let Linnea play with it while supervised. The biggest problem has been that she wants to dress the doll in the clothes, but they are only meant to be used as laundry on the line. Linnea insists that the tub of water is a TV. She turns it on its side and lines up the farm animals so they can watch it -- so I guess, depending on the child's imagination and interpretation, there are many possibilities for play.

At clean up time, everything fits neatly back in - just like a puzzle with each piece in its specially marked spot.

Little, self-contained sets like these help to promote independent play. They are easy to transport and are perfect for airplane travel, going to grandma's house, restaurants, waiting rooms, etc. They are also a great new sibling gift, as they are a creative way for an older sibling to play quietly while Mom is nursing the new baby. The box makes the toy feel special, and clean-up is easy. I've been keeping ours on the dining room table to keep the girls occupied while I cook.

It could also be combined with blocks for more fun play options.

Also available are an eight piece transportation set (very cool with train, helicopter, construction vehicle, truck, taxi, garage and mechanic) and a bigger, nineteen piece city set ($69.98). The sets are mde of wood and colored with vegetable-based dyes. They are very high quality, but they are made in China. They are manufactured under the direct supervision of Sevi, an Italian company that has been making toys since 1831. Sevi products meet all U.S. and European safety standards.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

NATURAL Kids and Toys

And, more cute little things from Etsy!

I grew up without Santa Claus. But, in our family, we have the legend of the New Year's Mouse. All year, the Mouse travels around the world in a toy helicopter collecting tiny treasures for his favorite people. On New Year's Eve, we leave our socks on the dining room table. We put out a little cheese and crackers, and when we wake up in the morning, the cheese and crackers are gone and the socks are filled with little gifts.

This year, the Mouse visited one of my very favorite Etsy stores Natural Kids and Toys. Christine, the mom behind the store, puts together fun, natural play sets made of wood and wool and other natural materials. Perfect toys for little girls who like little things. I especially love her needle-felted animals.

Owl Surprise Pot ($16.95)

The girls were absolutely delighted. Arielle got a pot with an owl. Linnea's had a mouse. And, they each received a hedgehog. Arielle, being an imaginative young lady, thought that the owl was stuck in the pot and needed to be saved before being eaten. Who would eat such a sweet owl?

The play sets are original, cute and show a sense of humor -- perfect for children who like to pretend. Arielle is playing with the hen set right now. Hen is being visited by her friends Owl and Mouse and there is some serious egg laying going on.

Hen Play Set with Wool Nest and Wooden Eggs ($16.95)

Christine's site is full of little bits of fun; I wish I could show them all. I've written before about how much my girls like acorns. And here they are, in rainbow colors -- just perfect for those imaginary rainbow squirrels or as troll treasure.

Rainbow Acorns ($7.95)

Lucky you, Christine is having a giveaway and you could win one of three play sets shown below: a wooden bowl and scoop play set, a honey bee play set, or a Waldorf-inspired doll baking set. Just click here to enter on her blog.

This set is perfect for a play kitchen. To me, the mom of an imaginary bird, the colorful balls look like delicious worm snacks, but they could also be stock for a pretend candy shop or peppers (says Arielle).

Several of her sets would make nice additions to a nature table. Wouldn't this bee a cute way to welcome spring?

Honey Bee Play Set ($22.95)

Just add some yellow and purple flowers because bees like those best.

There are also accessories for Waldorf dolls. Do your doll house dolls or fairies enjoy cooking?

Doll Baking Set ($12.95)

I wonder what kind of tasty treats this doll is cooking up.

Don't forget to enter and good luck!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Dream A Little

If I were selecting the cutest toy ever, Juicy Bugs from the Dream A Little store on Etsy would be a serious contender. Just look at the packaging...

.... and when you open them up - Juicy Bugs!

Juicy Bugs are just one of many toys available on Etsy that are handmade by individual artisans who work out of their homes or have small companies. I am especially featuring handmade toys this month because the sale of these toys is threatened by the CPSIA. I decided I would spend Arielle and Linnea's Christmas money on handmade toys -- while they are still available.

Purple Grapes on the Vine Juicy Bug ($14.00)

I'd been admiring these itty bitty (just over 1 1/2 inches tall) beauties for some time, and I just knew that the girls would love them. They do. All week, I've been finding little Juicy Bugs carefully tucked into doll house cradles and little pots. They also seem to make excellent babies for our doll house fairies.

The tiny "bugs" are very sturdy, yet bendable, and definitely meant to be played with (by children that don't put toys in their mouths). The big mystery is how does Dana make those tiny stitches? I'm seriously wondering if she's really an elf :o) because every detail is so meticulous.

These are perfect little gifts for any child and even for a teenager -- and they come already all wrapped up. They'd be great in an Easter basket, as a Valentine's love bug, as a special gift from the tooth fairy, or even as a lucky charm before a big event like a spelling bee or college interview.

Oh, and they are even cuter in real life :o)

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Finger Puppets by Cheryl A. Smith ($5.00 each)

Well, as you all know, Ariele LOVES finger puppets. I had Cheryl's page open on my computer when she came by.

-"What's that?"
-"Finger puppets."
-"I love finger puppets. I don't have any like that. I wish I had puppets like that."
-"Maybe you could get a job and earn money and buy puppets?" (I'm a mean mommy - especially right after a toy-filled Christmas.)
-"I have lots of money in my piggie. I can buy puppets.

And she did. She is really into birds right now, so that is what she got. Here's Arielle - just woke up and already playing with puppets.

Cheryl doesn't just do birds, there is a whole zoo's worth of creatures on her site.

Check out the Yeti.



Cheryl's puppets are made of embroidered and stitched felt. She has been making and selling her puppets on Etsy for three and a half years and has sold over 1,100 with a 100% positive rating. She's obviously doing something great! Arielle agrees.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Handmade Treasures

Usually, I try to let you know about toys we've tried out for ourselves. Today, I'm writing about toys that we have not had a chance to try, but the artisans who make these toys were willing to speak about their businesses and how they will be effected by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). These businesses may not be around after February 10th, so I wanted to let you know about them and to ask for your help.

Crafty Baby Clutch Ball ($16.50)

Jill, the owner of Crafty Baby, has been making an original design clutch ball for over ten years. The 7" ball is for children ages 4 months and up, and is divided into 4 sections for easy gripping. It is made from 100% cotton with polyester fiberfill. Light jingle bells are hidden inside. The ball is soft and durable, and designed to be safe for chewing, grabbing, and throwing at siblings and furniture. The ball is also safe for the washing machine and dryer.

She also makes a Nap Pack - an all-in-one, 100% polyester, fleece blanket. The pillow, which is stuffed with 100% polyester fiberfill, is permanently attached to the top, and the entire blanket rolls into itself for easy stowing and towing and trips to daycare. Her other products include changing pads, blankets and pillows.

Nap Pack ($39.99)

By Nana's Hands is an Etsy store that sells the creations of Melana MacLeod. Melana is a grandmother who had started sewing again after retiring last January. She made everything from diaper bags to clothes to tote bags and just fell in love with toy making. It seemed to her that everything out there was getting recalled, and two of her daughter in laws were refusing to let Melana's grandchildren play with anything that was made in China, so she started making her own toys.

I really like the stuffed tool set which is also available in a girly pink. The tool boxes have a fabric interfacing and the fleece tools are stuffed with hypoallergenic polyester fiberfill.

Tools for Tots ($20.00)

Linnea absolutely adores tools and is always "helping" when I assemble furniture or do home repairs. This would have been just perfect for her a year ago. Now, she's a girl who wants real tools - under lots of supervision! I learned my lesson when my son, 8 years old at the time, used the hammer from his Christmas tool set to conk his sister's head.... no worries with these tools.

By Nana's Hands is donating 15% of all sales in January to The Anderson House. The Anderson House is located on Prince Edward Island in Canada. The Anderson House was established in 1980 to provide a place of safety for women and children who are victims of abuse and to work towards the elimination of family violence. Fifty-percent of all sales of Tilly the Turtle are donated (Because Anderson House will help these women and children "come out of their shell").

Tilly the Snapping Turtle ($10.00)

By Nana's Hands stuffed toys are crafted with safety as the first priority. There are no removable parts, all decoration is machine embroidered and there are no hard parts on any of the toys, no plastics and no paints. That means no lead and no phthalates.

So, why will these toys become "Dangerous Goods" after February 10th? The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), requires THIRD-PARTY lead and phthalate testing of ALL products that are used by children under age 12. Currently, there are very few guidelines about how this law is to be implemented, and it is not known if materials will be excluded if they do not pose any possible risk.

Artisans like Jill and Melana are hoping for component testing rather than third-party testing of finished products. They are hoping that if the materials they use to produce their products are third-party certified as safe for children, that products made out of these materials will meet certification. Testing of the fabrics, thread, and notions very likely means that they will go up in price, but it is still more economical then testing individual handmade toys. This is hard for those like Melana who says she tries to keep prices down so everyone can afford her toys.

Melana is currently working on a race car set for toddlers complete with racing cars, "big wheel" trucks and a roll up cloth race track.... she hopes she can offer it without fear of getting fined!

Unfortunately, component testing won't work for everyone. Beth Hempton, owner of The Snuggle Herd, makes wild beasts out of upcycled (thrift store) jersey-knit shirts and reclaimed wool stuffing. "Reclaimed wool" is wool from old sweaters and blankets that have been cleaned and shredded.

Elsa the Elephant

Ginnie the Giraffe ($24)

According to current CPSIA rules, it is very unclear what would become of those who upcycle. Beth says that clothing and blankets already have their own safety regulations and testing, and are known to not contain lead or phthalates if they are cotton or wool. When she buys shirts at thrift stores, they still have their tags on them claiming their materials. But would she have to keep the tags from the original materials on my toys in order to document that they are safe? It is unlikely that cotton t-shirts could be considered a component that she could have tested once, as she uses different t-shirts for each batch of her toys and they come from different manufacturers. Beth says that it seems impossible for her to comply with these rules. She is especially frustrated because the majority of artisans making children's products from natural materials (like cotton & wool) are doing so specifically to avoid using materials that might have lead & pthalates in them! Currently there are six stores around the country that are carrying her products, but soon it may be illegal for them to do so.

Lyle the Lion

Connie puts her own designs on clothing and stationery at the MiniMonster Baby Boutique.

Paper Airplane Monster Print ($15.00)

She had planned to introduce coloring books with her fun and lively monster drawings (and even bought individual packs of crayons to include), but has now put that on hold until she knows how her plans will work under the CPSIA. The CPSIA also effects children's books.

Christine, the mom behind For My Kids Happy Fun Dough ($4.99-$29.99) is also worried. The moldable dough is made from water, flour (or gluten-free rice flour), salt, cream of tartar, canola oil,and citric acid -- all perfectly safe and natural.

Christine started her business specifically because she was concerned about exposing her children to toxins. When she was pregnant with her first child, she began to research some of the products that she was using both for personal hygiene and around her home. She was horrified to learn of the long-term damage she could be doing to myself, her child, and the planet with these common chemicals. So, she started making her own products.

About a year ago, some friends convinced her to start selling some of these products so that other people would also have alternatives She started For My Kids. Her newest product is Happy Fun Dough. She started offering it after a store that carries her other products found out that she'd been making it for her own sons and requested that she add it to the For My Kids line.

At first, she used standard food coloring. Then, she realized what exactly was in the standard food coloring. Even though it is FDA-approved, she didn’t want her sons playing in it. So, for a while, they played with uncolored Happy Fun Dough. Fortunately, she was able to find some great alternatives. Instead of the common artificial colorings, she uses plant and vegetable extracts.

Our Happy Fun Dough is COMPLETELY edible. Christine says "I would suggest adding it to your families regular meal plan…after all, too much salt isn’t good for you. ;-) My youngest son has partaken on more than one occasion. " But she wonders, since food products are safe for consumption, wouldn't it just make sense that a product made entirely of food would be safe for play? Yet, as the law is currently written, even this mixture of edible food products must undergo testing for lead and phthalates.

Lawmakers are starting to realize that the rules might need adjusting. An exemption may be made for some natural materials, including cotton, wool, and wood. However, this wooden pig also includes leather ears held on by screws and a tail. Without component certification, the pig would need to be tested by a third-party agency, and this is not an affordable option for a small family business like Made by Ewe.

Pig from Made by Ewe

Stacey says about her family business, "...this is not only a business for my family, but something we love to do. There is nothing more affirming for my father than to see a small child run off with his or her new wooden toy. He knows it's safer than many of the mass market toys and the parents know it will last." That's another special thing about handmade toys, they are made with love.

Mark Nutcher of Wood Toy Shop also makes amazing, heirloom-quality toys from hard woods finished with non-toxic mineral oil. He is a stay home dad and says "Any kind of third party testing would likely lead me to discontinue most of my toys. I am a one person shop with very limited production runs." He hopes that his best-selling toys might be able to absorb the cost of testing, but does not know.

Wooden Train Set

The train set components are also available individually, so one has the more budget-friendly option of building up a train over time.

Locomotive ($35.00)

Mark also sells vehicles, blocks, puzzles, rubber band race cars, a tool set, a wooden robot and nifty gizmos, like a decoder that every imaginary spy might need.

Amazing Secret Decoder ($8.00)

Finally, Little Sapling Toys, is a family business belonging to Rich, Kimber and Baby Rex. Their wooden baby toys are affordable works of art. I think I'd keep the stacking toy on my coffee table even after it had been outgrown. Besides, I happen to know that teenagers enjoy stacking toys, too.

Maple/Walnut Wood Stacking Toy ($26.00)

Simple Pine Rocking Horse

I wasn't able to resist the column play set. Writing about toys is tough!

Free-play Column Set infant/toddler toy ($26.00)

They also make rattles and teethers. There are action shots on the website.

As I interviewed these artisans, the themes I heard over and over were concerns over safety and that these toys are not just a business, they really are made with love. What can you do to help keep these toys available? Please vote at for the Handmade Toy Alliance's proposal "Save Small Business From the CPSIA". The top ten proposals will be presented to the new President. Currently, ours is #9, so every vote counts. Also, write to your Senators and Representative and ask that amendments be made to the CPSIA to help small businesses stay in business and keep our children safe. There is more information available at the Handmade Toy Alliance web page.