Sunday, December 30, 2007

Super-cool trucks

I'm finding it more difficult to wow my son as he gets older. He really likes character-based toys (Cars, Buzz Lightyear, Batman) and weapons. Not my favorites. He's not always immediately thrilled with my picks, although they often prove their worth in the long run.

When I saw these Fagus wooden trucks, I was cautiously optimistic. Both sets of grandparents were kind enough to buy one. Now, he's the proud owner of the Unimog truck with conveyor belt and the car transporter.

The photo is of Ronan sending the fish up the conveyor belt and into the Unimog's box.

Fagus trucks are handmade in Germany and are the recipient of many "Spiel Gut" toy awards (more on that later). They're pricey, but the kind of play they inspire, and the amazing quality of them, makes them worth it to our family.

I'd love to know if there are any American craftspeople making these kind of wooden vehicles. Let me know if you have any leads.

To Playmobil

I was so excited when my son turned four, all because of you. Sure, we had delved into the 1-2-3 line, and it's great. But oh, the big kid sets. Castles, pirates, construction vehicles, submarines and so much more! The level of detail is amazing, and the workmanship is fantastic. I love the ka-chunk, ka-chunk sound as my son rolls up the drawbridge on his new castle.

I'm glad we didn't jump the gun, though, as frustration can come easily to a little one who can't quite make the ATV guy's hands clip on to the handlebars.

The fact that your line is mostly still produced in Europe is fantastic in these lead-fearing days.

Now I just need to get a bunch of bins to hold the numerous, tiny accessories. And then head back to eavesdrop outside my son's door: "Dragon, you need to wait until everyone has their swords to attack." Thanks for making such nice, polite dragons!

Saturday, December 1, 2007


To the left you'll see a pile of rejected lovies. I don't know why I've always wanted my kids to adopt a special comfort item. I think I'm probably projecting my own desire -- how lovely to have one special, cozy, snuggly item that makes you feel better!

On the flip side, you have the risk of loss or damage. I still remember the family vacation when my younger brother's yellow quilted blanket was lost forever.

But still I persist. Here's the latest attempt. Baby Jayne's is owned by an acquaintance of mine, and this blanket is scrumptious. If Bea ends up discarding it, it's destined to become my lovey!

Monday, November 26, 2007

My Neighbor Totoro

This is by far my favorite animated film. (Okay, I do have a soft spot for Mulan, too.) The story is fanciful, even bordering on the bizarre if you take the cat bus into account. Two sisters, ages 4 and 11, are living in the country in 1950s Japan. Their mother is in the hospital with TB, and their father is a professor. The sisters develop a relationship with the local forest spirits, or totoro, who come to their aid when things go wrong.

Written and directed by Japanese legend Hayao Miyazaki, the character design and animation are breathtaking. Mai's character is imbued with the essence of little girl as she busily investigates her new house.

There are some tense bits to this movie, mostly when Mai (the four-year-old) gets lost. But everything ends happily; watch the beginning of the credits to see mom arriving home from the hospital.

Adults should also check out Spirited Away, and Kiki's Delivery Service is great for six and up.

Finally, for .25 a pop you can pick up a bushel of wooden acorns from Casey's Wood to make little tied-up packages just like Totoro's. I was going to make them as stocking stuffers but decided the acorns are a little small for my still-mouthy one-year-old.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Kick it, funky snowman!

This selection of goofy poems is one of our favorite reads. Calef Brown has a knack for the ridiculous.

Ronan's favorite part? When the polkabats drop polkaturds on a bystander's unsuspecting head.

Calef has a few other books of poetry, but this one remains at the top of our list.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Why I love Hanna

Andersson, that is. This photo shows my son wearing his new deck pants in May 2006. He also wore them today, and it's late November 2007. They're above his knees now, but still fit.

HA uses a lot of organic cotton, and their styles are colorful and classic. Also, I've found that stains are much more likely to come out than in other brands.

Hanna can be expensive, but if you get on their email list for sales, you can catch good deals. And even if you don't live near one of their outlet stores, you can call them. Tell them you're looking for deck pants or playdresses or whatever, and they'll tell you what colors they have in stock and ship them to you.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Tempting, but...

When I first saw this set in a catalog, I was all ready to put it on the Christmas list for Grandma to buy. A felt mailbox with a flag that moves and mail that has velcro stamps and addresses?? Fabulous! But then I saw that it costs $50.

I'm not someone who particularly enjoys doing crafty things. But really, how hard would it be to make a mailbox out of a shoebox, and then make lots of your own mail? Even my son, who also isn't very crafty, would enjoy doing that project, I think.

On the other hand, maybe this is a perfect gift from grandma. I'm not going to judge.

(And it's made in the USA. I saw it in the Chasing Fireflies catalog.)

A hybrid of sorts

This is the limo my son built using his two Automoblox cars. They're a multipurpose toy, because they're cars, but they can be rebuilt into different configurations, and the people come out. In my son's world, the people are always multitasking. As they're waiting for their vehicles to be fixed, they're heading off to Costco or Target (and they're always allowed to buy toys!).

The wheels are rubber that rolls nicely over hard floors. They are made in China. The construction quality is nice, but they can get damaged through very rough play. We've had ours almost a year, and I definitely give them a thumbs up! I think you really need at least two of these to take advantage of the rebuilding possibilities. We bought them at FatBrain Toys.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Thirty minutes on an airplane

That's what this $14 hide & seek board bought me. Which, if you've ever flown with a 1-1/2 year old, you know is worth every penny. Each door opens to show a magnetic animal or object that can be removed. We didn't even lose any of the pieces!

Another hit was the sticker book her brother had just finished doing (Usborne's Wooly Stops the Train). She spent fifteen minutes carefully peeling the stickers off and sticking them on the window and all over me.

The magnet board is by Melissa & Doug -- I purchased it from Amazon.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The rabbit gentleman

A rabbit with a rheumatism crutch and a nurse, Jane Fuzzy Wuzzy, are the main characters in this collection of early 20th-century stories. And I never would have guessed that they could so captivate my son. Jim Weiss is a renowned storyteller with a large catalog of celebrated recordings. We have other CDs of his, but Ronan always comes back to Uncle Wiggly and the animal children who live in the woods.

We owe a big debt to Mr. Long Ears. When Ronan is having a hard time settling down, this CD is guaranteed to keep him still in bed long enough to fall asleep.

Tip: Copy this to your itunes while it's still fresh; CDs get scratched fairly easily and it's nice to have a back-up.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I covet this

While I usually post only about things I own, I had to make an exception for this scrumptious twirly skirt. It's fun, retro and whimsical; some of my favorite adjectives! Check it out at this Etsy shop.

Thanks to my friend Bridget for sending me the link. (And I'm coveting it for my daughter, not me! Although I could probably get into the patchwork thing, too....)

I'm keeping this for the grandkids

This lockbox from TAG Toys is fabulous. The first one we purchased for Ronan's second Christmas was half the price. As I was taking it out of the shipping box, the handle fell off. So back it went, and we invested in this one.

As you've probably noticed, I'm a big fan of open-ended toys, and this one fits the bill. Two of my favorite ways my son has used this toy: As a receptacle for play-doh bricks on a construction site (why they have to store so many bricks, I don't know!), and as a party house for small plastic animals. So, the lion, say, will decide to throw a party in one of the compartments, and then all the other animals have to knock on one of the doors until the lion decides they're worthy to come in. He's a tough doorman!

I've not purchased anything else from TAG Toys, but I love the look of the Stake Truck and this ball ramp. Oh, and they make everything in the U.S.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The perfect gift for a second-time momma

This small diaper bag by Fleurville is aptly called the "Escape Pod." It's great for second-time moms in particular, because, at least in my experience, we tend to carry less. I realize that the math doesn't add up: more kids = carrying less stuff, but it's true for me. I live on the wild side now. No extra outfit, blankie, jacket, sippy cup or miscellaneous toys at my beck and call in the middle of Target. (Don't ask about the back of my van, though!)

This bag does easily hold my wallet, cell phone, a changing pad (included), one diaper and wipes. I've been using mine for a good year, and it's probably almost time to move on. But it's had a good run!

One of my wise friends has mentioned that this is not such a good option for non-breastfeeding moms, because there's no room to carry a bottle. But I think that's the only downside. Check Google to see all the fun prints that are available.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

D. All of the above

What can you use playsilks for?
A. Impromptu capes, scarves or skirts
B. Raucous games of peek-a-boo
C. Roofs/doors for your couch forts

Playsilks really are floaty, soft silk. They fold up into tiny squares and then unfurl to be lakes, slings or flags. Plus, they're machine washable: a practical parent's dream!

I got mine at A Toy Garden (click on "creative play"). If you're crafty and/or brave, you can buy them really inexpensively from Dharma Trading and then dye them with Koolaid and vinegar. I haven't tried it, but there seem to be good directions on this blog.

I think I'm going to get some large ones for the kiddos. Ronan insists that his favorite color is black (because it's the "spookiest"), so if I can find a large black one, that'll be in his stocking!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A preschool game that even Momma likes to play!

Who can resist miniature wooden fruit that you collect in tiny baskets? Not me! And preschoolers are thrilled to gather all the fruit before the raven gets it.

This is a cooperative game, so all the players are working together, which is nice for when Ronan wants to play a game with a friend. Four-year-olds are not good losers, I've found.

There are other versions of this game, including a mini one in a tin, and a large-scale one that's over two feet square, with Haba's regular-size wooden fruit.

Haba's quality is really exceptional. This game will last forever, assuming you can hang onto all the little fruit. Not suitable for the under-two set because of the choking risk.

Many online retailers sell this; so Google for the best price and shipping deal.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

"One-quarter of George Washington's head"

They Might Be Giants' album for the whole family, No!, is brilliant. My son's favorite song, "Robot Parade," intones, "In a future time, children will work together to build a giant CYBORG," while my pick is the infectious, kitschy PSA "In the Middle," which gives specific instructions on how to cross the street. It's joyously entertaining for all of us.

Ronan beautifully misinterprets another track on this album, "Where Do They Make Balloons?" He sings, "Where do they make a roux?" Yes, he saw Ratatouille this summer!

TMBG have another kids' album, Here Come the ABCs. This one is not in heavy rotation at the moment, although I still myself singing, "Go, go, go go for G" more often than I'd like.

Check out GiantKid to explore TMBG's offerings for kids.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

For the two-year-old in your life

These Crocodile Creek puzzles are my favorite present for two-year-olds. Big, durable pieces, great graphics, and the adorable carrying case make these a wonderful gift. Although he needed help at first, by 2-1/2 Ronan was able to complete these independently. He's now four and will still do these puzzles. Soon his little sister will be able to take them over.

These are available at many online retailers, and at least one of my local, independent toy stores. (Swains, for those of you in my neighborhood.)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

If you're going to have a drum in the house... may as well be one that sounds really nice. Remo is a real drum company, but they have a line for kids. This floor tom has such a satisfying weight and feel. Adults (like, say, me) enjoy playing this as much as the little ones.

And if you're in L.A., check out Remo's Kids Rhythm Club. You go to their community center in North Hollywood (usually on Saturday mornings at 11, but check their website) and they have loads of drums to choose from. A facilitator leads the kids in a fun drum circle. It's free, loud and fantastic!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

She's only one, and she's getting a pony for Christmas!

One of my favorite haunts, Kid Surplus, is offering free shipping now through October 25th. You must spend at least $75, and the code is FREESHIP1. They have a wide selection and good prices on brands including Playmobil, Haba, Selecta and others. My daughter's getting one of these Rody ponies for Christmas. Shhh....don't tell!

Zoom Zoom

Ronan insists that his LIKEaBIKE is a fast motorcycle. And who am I to argue? He's so joyful when he's riding it; he can even take corners without stopping.

It took him a while to get the confidence to really push off with both feet and glide, but now he's so fast that I have to run full-on to keep up with him. So I got myself a Xootr. Mommas deserve to go fast, too!

I think after riding this for a year, Ronan will be able to go straight to a regular two-wheeler -- no training wheels.

I know the LIKEaBIKE is pricey, so if you're looking for an alternative, there are knock-offs available (Skuut and the Kettler Sprint Bike are a couple I'm aware of). My only warning for any push bike is that your child needs to be able to have his/her feet flat on the floor to ride comfortably, especially at first. So pay attention to what the minimum height is. And put your running shoes on!

(And yes, we both wear helmets outside. Definitely a must.)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

24 Days of Giving (and Receiving!)

Advent calendars represent the best of the holidays to me. The idea of one perfect little morsel every day, whether it's a yummy bite of chocolate or a single piece of a vast Playmobil set, seems like a great way to celebrate the season. I wish I were crafty enough to make this one myself, but that's definitely not the case. Disclaimer: I don't own this and have never seen it in real life.

I'm partial to calendars with pockets, which is one reason I like these elves, but my husband is totally freaked out by them. (Although I'd like to note that they DO have eyes, which is not apparent in this photo.)

These advent calendars are available from Garnet Hill.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

In and Out

The people go in. The people come out. The people get lost under the couch. One manages to end up under your bare foot in the middle of the night when you're desperately trying to get to the baby's room before she wakes up the neighborhood.

Made in the USA by a family-owned company. You can buy it at Rosie Hippo's, another great family-owned company. You'll want to keep this rainbow people mover for your grandchildren!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Instant Architect

Magna-Tiles are the best third-birthday gift ever. It is so easy and satisfying to build all sorts of structures with them. These things rule! Ronan usually constructs houses for various superheroes (Superman's door is always on the ceiling because he can fly out), corrals and zoos for animals, and garages for his many small vehicles. I imagine that these will be in use for at least three more years.

Yes, they are plastic, and I'm assuming they're made in China, although I couldn't confirm that. We have two sets, one translucent and one solid. The latest set was purchased here. Google for the best price.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Caped Crusaders

My son wanted a superhero party for his fourth birthday. Thanks to the Superflykidz shop at Etsy, I was able to provide capes for all the attendees. (Don't mind the baseball bat my son is carrying.)

What a spectacular hit they were! Any kid under the age of six will be thrilled to have a personalized cape. And make sure you get it in a spooky color. According to my son, that's black, blue, green, red, silver or purple.

To infinity and beyond!

Because every baby needs a going-out bib

My kids are both messy eaters. Probably because I let them self-feed from the get-go. And they both were born with full heads of hair, so bibs that tie are not an option. I love these bibs from Lilypad Baby. Reversible, cute, and super-durable.

I am a wee bit disappointed, though, because they used to offer personalization. And really, is there anything that makes a momma happier than to see her new baby's name on an adorable retro print bib?

Still a great gift option. Also note that the choices for boys are just as cute as the girl options. Hallelujah for us mommas of boys!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Mousie was purchased for my daughter's first Christmas. She was seven months old. Who knew that my three-year-old son would completely claim this as his own? Mousie is solid, which is a good thing, because he's had to endure countless crashes, rescues, and meetings with Buzz Lightyear and Lightning McQueen. His car emits a pleasing squeak when you push it up and down, and a bell on the front twirls as Mousie races along.

Even the under-one set can get Mousie in and out of his vehicle. Made in Germany, I purchased this from Oompa.