Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Toys at risk

Yes, the rumors are true. A bill passed in August 2008 mandates testing for all toys being imported to the U.S. Already, one of my European favorites, Selecta, has announced that they will pull out of the U.S. market at the end of 2008 because the cost of this new testing will be too prohibitive. 

I appreciate that the government is trying to protect our kids, but they didn't make any provisions in the bill for the small U.S. firms that still make toys, or the crafters on Etsy, for instance. At $4,000 a pop, these people will not be able to afford the testing.

In addition, the European companies already meet the stringent standards of the E.U., but apparently that will count for nothing here. 

Please stop by the Handmade Toy Alliance to read more and to take action. Follow their links to write to your representatives. We've got the power to change this! Let's not see the small, innovative toy companies driven out of the U.S.

Friday, November 21, 2008


My daughter is the kind of girl who will change outfits three times a day if she has the chance, and will choose a skirt or a dress every time. (No, she didn't get this from me!) 

So when a friend raved about the reversible dresses from Twirly Girl, I knew I had found the perfect gift for the grandparents to give Bea for Christmas.  The construction is impeccable and the colors are outrageous. We're going to have to peel it off of her. 

(And I have to admit, it looks awfully fun to have such a swishy skirt. Wonder if they make adult sizes??)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pants fit for a hero

My son is only interested in clothing if superheroes (or maybe Star Wars) are involved. I ordered him these custom patchwork pants from Sunshine Salad's shop at Etsy. You get to pick five different patches and the corduroy color. She even does a reverse color on the cuffs so they look cute when they're rolled up. Wish I could show you a photo of Ronan wearing them, but they're a Christmas gift -- sssshhhh, don't tell him!

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Busy bugs are great for sorting, counting, matching and learning colors. Three is the perfect age for them. Good luck keeping all the bugs together, though! I think we're only missing a blue beetle currently...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Spatial Relations

If you have a puzzle-obsessed five-year-old, check out Castle Logix. With only seven pieces, it's maddeningly simple, yet the booklet has 48 challenges. The wood pieces are satisfying to build with, too.

I often see it at Target, and it's also available online from the usual suspects. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Girly Bling

I found these personalized necklaces on Etsy, and they've become my go-to gift for five-year-old girls. This one is from Dara, but I have also purchased darling ones from VMDesigns. (And notice the pink bag in the background? That came with it!)

My Etsy tip of the day: If you want to order more than one of an item, use the blue "contact" link on the right of every shop to start a convo with the owner. They'll usually set up a custom listing for you, and you might even get a deal!

The holidays are coming up fast, so get those custom orders in.

Monday, November 10, 2008


These scented colored pencils are a fantastic stocking stuffer idea. Made from recycled newspaper, each one in the ten-pack is individually packaged. Come to think of it, they'd be great for an advent calendar, too. A pencil a day!

The scents are scrumptious -- my favorites are root beer and cinnamon. There's also a "holiday scents" pack, but they're regular pencils, not colored. I bought mine at Stubby Pencil Studio, but they're available at many online retailers.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Matilda? Oscar? Milo? Millicent?

As my dear friends know, I am a tad bit obsessed with baby names. Since my own baby naming days are most likely behind me, I need a school of fish or something. Here are some of my favorite resources:
-- Nymbler is fascinating. Type in a name, and it generates a matching sibling list for you. You can even specify boy or girl.
--Here you can look up the most popular names. Check by individual state, or my favorite, go back a hundred years or so to unearth a little-used classic.
-- This is my favorite naming quiz. My husband and I each took it and then compared notes, which really helped direct our daughter's name.
-- Finally, there are two baby name blogs that are worth subscribing to. If you want to run your names by some NEs ("name enthusiasts"), check the comments after each post here. She also has some interesting naming tools in the top bar. This one is updated almost every day and also has boards here where you can discuss names with others. 

Besides the ones in the title, here are some of my favorite names these days: Abram, Declan, Walter, Eloise, Theo, Betsy (for Elizabeth), Cora and Genevieve.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


If you're at all handy, you can create amazing cardboard sculpture with Mr. McGroovy's Box Rivets. My husband made this pair of robots for Ronan's birthday party. We then let the kids go to town with washable paint and brushes.

If you want to see something truly amazing, check out the castles. Maybe for Bea's third birthday?? He also has advice about where to get boxes for free

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Moving on from Go Fish

I bought my son the Rat-a-Tat-Cat card game based on some recommendations from the mommas over at Mothering. And we love it! Can't get enough of it. You have four cards, and the object is to have the lowest score.

It says six and up, but we play the modified version for younger kids and Ronan does great with it. This may become my new go-to gift for five-year-olds. My mom and husband and I even played it after the kiddos were in bed. It plays fast and has both chance and skill involved in satisfying measures. 

Available on Amazon.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Because airplane seats are so close together that you can't pick things up off the floor

These markers are brilliant -- the caps stay attached, so there's no chasing them down when you're traveling. And they're six to a pack, an ideal number for a trip. Oh, and washable of course! They're definitely more expensive, but worth it to have a pack or two around, I think.

They're Crayola Flip-Top Markers, and I bought them at TRU.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

For General Audiences

As most of us parents know, it's hard to judge a movie by its cover. Just because it's animated doesn't mean it's appropriate or fun for little ones. And I've found that my memory is not necessarily accurate. (Somehow I have no memory of the drunken sidekick and child selling ring in Pete's Dragon. Oops.) 

Since my son seems particularly sensitive to movies,  Common Sense Media has been a huge help. I've found their age ratings to be spot-on for him. And they rate chapter books as well as movies. Now when he's interested in seeing or reading something new, he tells me to go look it up, and we both accept what Common Sense recommends. It's a win-win for our family.

Thanks to Greg Robbins on Flickr for the use of this Creative Commons photo.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


This book is delightful in so many ways -- the text is charming and the art is wonderfully whimsical (don't miss the rabbit blowing milk bubbles with his straw), but mostly I love it because of a conversation it sparked. But let me backtrack: this book offers interesting definitions of words like "modest," "envy" and "respect."

As my son looked at the page describing "optimist" and "pessimist," which shows a grumpy lady rabbit to the left, and a joyous, baseball-cap-wearing rabbit to the right, both with half a cookie on their plates, my son said, "I don't get it. They both have the same amount of cookie left." And we had a lovely conversation about how even when the situation is the same, two people can perceive things differently.

Don't miss Little Pea, another of our favorites by A. K. Rosenthal. 

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A book to remember by

My brother and sister-in-law made this amazing photo book recounting the trip their family made to California to visit us. 

Using photos they took and simple text, they put it all together at Shutterfly. If you have a Mac, there are also easy options through iphoto. 

Now I'm thinking that I'll co-opt their idea for our upcoming trip and take photos with a story in mind: packing suitcases, leaving the house, at the airport, etc. 

It's such a fun, personalized gift that little ones will admire over and over. And in the case of family vacations, you can make multiple copies to share with all branches.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Blast off for summer!

I'm a fan of homemade popsicles, but up until now, I haven't been happy with the popsicle molds I've found. But now the search is over, thanks to these blue Tovolo Rocket Pop Molds

If you're looking for ideas, it's super easy to make your own popsicles, and sneak some healthy stuff in along the way. Here are some of the ingredients I usually use:
-- any fruit (fresh or frozen; bananas, strawberries and mangoes are the top picks here)
-- avocado
-- flax seed
-- juice
-- yogurt
Whip it all together in the blender, pour it into the molds, and enjoy!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Create your own dragon

Ronan received this cool Bloco set from his Aunt Amye. You use foam pieces and connectors to create all kinds of creatures. He adheres pretty strictly to the instructions, but I think as he gets older he'll be able to dream up his own reptilian designs.

The major downside is tons of very small pieces (eyeballs and connectors), so if you have a little one around, beware.

Made in Canada! And there are a few different themed sets available from Fat Brain.

A Million Words

Photographer Anita Maya. Love her. She's amazing. Isn't my one-year-old son just dreamy?

Friday, March 28, 2008

I spy with my little eye...

Ronan's Nonna gave him one of these Hide and Seek bags over a year ago, and it's suddenly vaulted into the "favorite car toy" category. It's a fleece pillow that's filled with soft pellets and about 40 little trinkets. You choose an item from the attached laminated list, and then manipulate the insides around until the chosen object appears in the "window."  

Unfortunately, it appears that this particular seller is out of business, but quite a few Etsy   stores have them in stock. Search "I spy bag" or "hide and seek bag".

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Familiar Voices

You may remember my earlier post about how my son loves to listen to stories on CD. Well, thanks to our relatives, who are both open to my zany suggestions and fairly technologically capable, we took it one step further. For Christmas this year, they purchased picture books, recorded themselves reading them, and then burned CDs. So now my son has a stack of new books, and he can pop in a CD and hear, for instance, Uncle Mike reading Traction Man Is Here (with Aunt Jamie on sound effects). Since we live across the country from our families, it's a nice way for him to feel connected. My older niece and nephew even did some reading for him!

A few longer books that I think work well are Flat Stanley, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, A Bad Case of Stripes, Eloise, How I Became a Pirate, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Make Way for Ducklings, and Fairy Houses.

I've burned all the individual CDs into iTunes and made one master CD. Sometimes Ronan listens to the whole thing before bed, in the dark, without looking at the books.

With a Mac, it's pretty easy to use GarageBand to record (and put in little sound effects as the page-turning notification). Pretend like you're making a podcast. On a PC, download Audacity (which is free).

I'd love to hear suggestions for longer picture books that would work well, so if you have any in mind, please comment.

Monday, February 11, 2008


As a former high school soccer player, I love the feel of the Oball. It's easy to juggle, and then there's the satisfying sound it makes as it hits the garage door again and again. Lightweight, colorful, and good for all ages. I just saw them at Target, although they only had the smaller size (4.5" diameter) and not the larger (7.5" diameter). Happy thwacking!

Happy walls

On a whim this weekend, we finally started putting up these wall decals we bought for Ronan's room almost a year ago. They look fantastic! I'm so thrilled with how easy they were to apply (well, and also thrilled because my husband actually did the applying). We used the regular ones, so you can remove them easily, but not re-stick them.

They really look like they're painted on, and I love the sense of color and whimsy they add to the room. We also put some on his closet doors.

And yes, that's a Delta frequent flyer card JP is using to smooth them on. It was issued to Ronan when he was one. We declined the American Express card, however!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Moveable art

Since we recently finished an addition to our house, we have a lot of blank walls. I got inspired, and ordered a magnetic spiral puzzle with a magnet board. Now we have a unique, constantly changing work of art.

My suggestion is to hang it so that it's easy to remove from the wall so you can work on it at the table. We didn't do this, but I'll ask my husband to remedy that sometime soon.

I got my puzzle through a co-op, but it's available at Nova Natural. Google "spiral magnet puzzle" to find other retailers. The small, wooden pieces are definitely too little (and enticing) for the under-three set.

Monday, January 21, 2008


As an adult, you're probably asking, what is a Bilibo, and what the heck would you do with this thing? Have no fear -- your kids will know what to do!

Watch the movie here if you're still not convinced.

Available from many online retailers, including Fat Brain Toys.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A most excellent stroller

The Phil and Ted's E3 is a single jogging-type stroller, but you can hook a second seat on. The maneuverability is unbelievable; there's never a worry about whether you'll fit through the door. The combined weight limit for the two seats is 88 lbs., but luckily the air-filled rubber tires make pushing fairly effortless.

The downsides: price (although I imagine the resale value is pretty good), lack of storage space (we sprung for the panniers, which you can see in the photo), and the possibility that the kid in the back will want to touch the spinning tires of death. People often comment that Beatrix, seated in the back, can't see anything, but she has plenty to see out the sides. At any rate, she's never complained!

In addition, if your kids are really close in age, I probably wouldn't recommend the E3. I'd check out the Mountain Buggy Urban Double, or something similar. The beauty of the E3 for us is that it's a great single, with the capacity to be a pretty amazing double.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Lucky grandparents!

About six weeks ago, I began the search for something my four-year-old could make for his grandparents for Christmas. Keep in mind, he's not an artistic kid. I've tried dot paint, glitter glue, scissors, stickers, 18 kinds of crayons -- he'd rather run, as he explained to me.

Last year he painted coffee mugs at one of those paint-it-yourself pottery places. Granted, the total time spent painting was about 3-1/2 minutes, but they turned out great and hit my two major criteria: He was involved in making them, and they're useful.

On one of the photo sites, I saw notepads made out of a photo, and then, my inspiration struck. Ronan wrote "Mimi," "Papa," and "Nonna" with different colored markers (he does like writing, so this was acceptable to him). Then I had Beatrix scribble. My fabulous husband scanned in their work, and pasted it into a VistaPrint template in Photoshop. Two weeks later, we had gifts!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

An all-purpose essential

Before Christmas, I was lucky enough to get into a toy co-op that included a gorgeous German brand: Grimm's Spiel and Holz. I think my favorite item so far is the beautiful wooden nesting boxes. They're big, and they just have so many possibilities: little houses, garages, towers, pots for cooking.

S&H puzzles are also drool-worthy. Not all of their items are readily available in the U.S., unfortunately, but Three Sisters Toys carries some (check the Stacking & Nesting and Games & Puzzles links for the selection).

Saturday, January 5, 2008

A box of books

This box of miniature board books makes a great baby shower gift. They are perfectly sized for little hands, and I'm partial to the illustration style.

My daughter often brings them to me to read. While my son isn't much of a reader, he has used them for a variety of stacking and sorting games.

The "X" installment includes "xenops," which is apparently a kind of bird. Huh.

This set is published by Chronicle and available on Amazon.

Friday, January 4, 2008


I assume that many of you out there are anti-video games. This post is not for you. Given that my husband worked for a video game company, I never had any illusions that I would be shielding my children from them. Up until now, I've been pretty hands-off about it; Ronan and JP play Nintendo 64 games on the weekends, whatever.

Then, in September, my husband mentioned that there was a Wii available online and we should get it for Christmas. I thought he was crazy, but agreed.

Whoah. This is seriously fun. Who knew that I would really enjoy a game called Excite Truck? And it's perfect for Ronan, because not only do you get to pick your truck color (black, of course) but you get to finish the race, even if you're in last place.

JP and I are already uber-competitive about Wii Tennis. Uh-oh.

And in case you're wondering, we restrict video games to when Daddy is home, which seems to be working pretty well so far.

Note: The image comes from the Creative Commons pool at Flickr. Click the photo to be taken to the photographer's photostream.