Thursday, March 19, 2009

Healthy, hoppy, eco-friendly Easter Baskets

It's the Bunny time of year, and I wanted to suggest a few ways to make Easter eco-friendly by reducing waste in your Easter baskets and to offer some alternatives to sugary candy and stuffed rabbits.

First, the basket; make it something reusable, something that the kids can play with, or something that can be used for storage long after the holiday is over.

Stubby Pencil has some super cute, handmade, felt Easter baskets ($13.95). Not only are they bright and springy, but ours looks really nice on the playroom shelf.

Another option is the Bolga Basket from A Toy Garden. These fair trade, handmade baskets are available in small ($15.95), medium ($29.95) and large ($35.95). The girls tote their pretend groceries and store play vegetables in the small ones they received last year. I've been thinking about getting a large one to hold all the dolls and stuffed animals that I'm always picking up.

A fun option is a child-sized laundry basket ($7.50). If you add a clothes pin set ($7.99) and some spring-colored play silks, you've got hours of inexpensive playtime. Arielle still loves playing laundry.

Themed Easter baskets don't even have to be baskets; try a pail or tote with child-size gardening tools ($17.95) or a bucket of sand toys ($19.99).

A reusable bag can also be used as either an alternative to a basket or as a gift inside a basket. Envirosax for Kids have cheerful, child-friendly designs and are great for hauling stuff to preschool or daycare. There's even a bunny design. Ours are holding Arielle's mountain of library books.

Art supplies, of course, are wonderful gift for any occasion: eco-friendly water colors, colored pencils, or markers are always fun. Choose one and add the appropriate accessories: a cute pencil sharpener and sketch book, recycled coloring cards, or paint brushes and water color paper. This year, I'll be including Beeswax Crayons (12 for $14.95) in our baskets.

This set of animal stamps (5 for $19.95) could be split among several children. It is made in Thailand of rubberwood. Make sure to use washable ink as Arielle and Linnea tend to get ink all over and these animals are just to cute to be all inky.

As for treats, a sweet alternative to traditional candy is a Yummy Earth organic fruit lollipop (15 for $3.50 or 20 cents each). I actually used these during potty training as a bribe to keep Arielle on the potty while potty training **blush**. They are delicious and all natural, so I didn't feel too bad about it. Instead of chemical dyes, they are colored with organic ingredients such as such as red cabbage, orange pumpkins, turmeric and purple carrots. The lollipops are casein, dairy, egg, gluten, nut, soy and wheat-free. There are no refined sugars or corn syrup, instead the sweetness comes from organic evaporated cane juice and organic tapioca syrup. I am particularly partial to pomegranate. Homemade treats are another option.

Stuffed bunnies are cute, but there is a limit. You just can't have a stuffed bunny every Easter - they reproduce faster than real bunnies! They become Dust Bunnies! Instead of stuffed bunnies, try a play set or a puppet that can be played with for several years. I've written a lot about Arielle and her puppet love. I encourage it because puppets are a wonderful, open-ended toy that she can play with until her teen years. She has a lot, but more characters means more stories. They can only inspire imagination and creativity. I especially like Folkmanis puppets (yes, they are Made in China, but there is really nothing comparable), which I buy at Puppet-World. Puppet-World ships quickly, and they have a great selection and awesome customer service. Arielle loves birds, especially cockatoos, and I was so excited to see that Folkmanis came out with a cockatoo puppet ($23.95) this year. Guess what Arielle's getting... There's also a cute little chick ($4.25) that is perfect for a more traditional-looking basket.

So... my list: a puppet, some crayons, a sketch book and a few organic lollipops in a reusable basket - not crazy expensive, everything will be used again and again (except the lollipops), and no waste. I guess the main thing is rather than filling up with easy to find Easter themed junk, think about your child's interests. A child who received a play kitchen for Christmas might appreciate a basket of play veggies, a child who enjoys animals, might like a few new Holztiger animals with a play silk to line the basket, a toddler would be happy with homemade play dough, Easter-themed cookie cutters and a rolling pin.

Happy Spring.

I made it myself at Stubby Pencil

Crazy weather here. It's been cold one day, warm and rainy the next. Today is super windy with sticks blowing everywhere and mud! Lots of mud! How do we beat the cabin fever?

Stubby Pencil Studio
, our 2008 store of the year, has great new stuff for art projects. Some of our very favorites are the "Made by Me" kits ($4.00) come in several styles and allow a child to make a car or truck all by themselves. These all-wood kits are made in Vermont by Maple Landmark.

You provide the glue, hammer and paint, markers, crayons, stickers, etc... for decoration.

First you decorate.

Then you assemble the vehicle.

Then you play with your creation.

The girls were so happy and proud and couldn't wait to show their cars to Daddy. "My made it!"

Stubby Pencil Studio has many other treats, perfect for a rainy day or an Easter Basket.

Arielle especially enjoyed the People Pencils ($19.95 for a set of 15)

These high quality colored pencils are made by FineTec in Germany. They have a very smooth feel, similar to Lyra pencils (but at a fraction of the cost). The array of neutral colors captures the huge variation of human skin tones, perfect since Arielle has just started to learn about geography and other countries.

But, Arielle also thinks they are also excellent for drawing birds.

Colored pencils are also a nice way to color Easter Cards (6 for $7.95) made from 100% post-consumer paper.

We have a brand new coupon code. Our readers can use "SARA09" for a FREE Color 'n Kids cards Sample pack - which includes 8 cards: 2 birthday, 2 thank you, a get well and several others. $9.95 value. Good through 12/31/09.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Bunnies for spring

Well, our snow hasn't quite melted and the flowers certainly aren't blooming, but the smell of spring is in the air and the Magic Cabin website is featuring their Easter Collection. This springy bunch of bunnies, baskets, crafts and gifts is just right for filling Easter baskets, celebrating the Spring Equinox, or just for anticipating that winter is almost over.

But, Arielle has been talking about Magic Cabin's rabbit hutch since she first saw it in the catalog in November. Fortunately, Magic Cabin was very kind and she got to do a pre-Easter review.

The Rabbit Hutch ($69 for hutch and three bunnies, also sold separately)

The hutch itself is beautifully handcrafted of solid pine with hardwood doors and a roof. The unfinished wood is nice and smooth - no worries about splinters. The hutch has two little rooms for bunny nests. Each room has its own door that opens and closes and "locks" to keep the bunnies safe and warm.

"What are the bunnies safe from, Arielle?"
" The wind and wild tigers and lions and dinosaurs."

It's good to know that these sweet little bunnies are safe. Each little felt bunny is about three inches long. They are made in Germany from 100% wool felt and have embroidered features and the cutest poofy cotton tails.

They especially like to eat wooden carrots and green beans and lettuce. Yum!

Arielle can spend hours playing with the bunnies. She used a green play silk to make a meadow for the bunnies to play in.

The bunnies are also available individually in dark brown, light brown and white ($12.98). They are suggested for ages three and up. The hutch is also available individually ($39.98), and can be used as a chicken coop or bird house for Holztiger figures or other small animals.

I've got more Easter suggestions coming up, but if you are looking for an easy, safe, non-junky Easter basket, Magic Cabin has a prefilled Easter Gift Basket ($24.98). This is a basket lined with paper grass and filled with five chocolate coins, a soft velour bunny, a natural lollipop, a rubber ball and sticker book - a nice Bunny surprise for any child.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Poo-Poo the Organic Sock Monkey

Once upon a time, a little girl named Linnea met a monkey. She named her monkey Poo-Poo and they became best of friends.

Poo-Poo wasn't just any monkey. Poo-Poo is a Maggie's Organic Sock Monkey ($19.95 and available in a variety of natural colors). One of the many wonderful toys made in the USA and sold at Down to Earth Toys.

Poo-Poo is made of Maggie's Socks. These are the socks they sell at the food coop, which are made at a 100% worker-owned cooperative in North Carolina. Monkeys like Poo-Poo are made using the less than perfect socks (85% cotton certified organic cotton, 13% Nylon, 2% spandex) and are stuffed with reclaimed fiber from mill scraps. So Poo-Poo is eco-friendly.

Maggie's Sock Monkeys are safe for all ages. Linnea likes to chew hers, fortunately the friendly hand-embroidered face makes Maggie's monkeys perfectly safe for this.

Linnea likes to take her monkey everywhere. When we ride in the car, she yells "Need Poo-Poo!" This is only a little confusing as we are also working on potty training.

So, they go potty together.

They watch Dora.

They even share a cupcake with a friend.

Fortunately, Poo-Poo is washer and dryer safe -- just machine wash warm and tumble dry on low. Poo-Poo is up to anything that Linnea can dish out. I wonder what is next?

If you know anyone who needs an organic sock monkey or other fine toys made in the USA, Down to Earth Toys is offering our readers free shipping on all orders over $25. Use the code MAMA03 through April 15, and yes, the little girl on the home page does look familiar.