Friday, 30 November 2007

Bowled Over by the Toy Industry

Last week I was greeted by a disturbing notice in my mailbox. A letter from Lee Valley revealed that a favorite in our family’s toy box was likely adorned with lead paint. A set of Russian Matriuschka nesting dolls I had purchased was the contaminated plaything. I cringed as I stared down at this heavily played-with item. Much of the paint had chipped off. Smoke billowed from my ears as I considered my sweet innocent children being unnecessarily exposed to lead.

I continue to be shocked, disgusted and frustrated with the toy industry. My distrust over the safety controls in place propelled me on a quest to provide my children with non-toxic, quality toys. I’ve discovered that toys crafted with my own two hands provide the best solution in many cases. I’m in complete control of the materials and manufacturing quality standards in place! My solution to the loss of the Matriuschka dolls was to create a homemade version of a nesting toy. With a crochet hook in hand, I was able to whip up a set of woolen rainbow nesting bowls over the course of a few evenings. A couple of cycles through my washing machine felted them sufficiently to hold shape.

Nesting toys have always been a favorite in my house. Both Chi-Chi and Muffy find delight in solving the “puzzle” these toys present by sorting the objects in order of size. Their creative imaginations have allowed them to discover many other uses for these open-ended toys. The six vibrant vessels often serve as cooking pots and serving dishes in their bustling play kitchen. Just last night, Chi-Chi was “skating” in the living room and decided he needed a hat to protect his ears from the cold. In the blink of an eye the orange bowl served as a cozy toque.

I’ve managed to find a silver lining amidst my feelings of disgust and rage. I’ve embarked on a self-improvement journey that has been rewarding and exhilarating. I’m having the time of my life acquiring new skills and experimenting with new materials. Over the last six months I’ve added crochet, knitting, carving and felting to my list of hobbies and interests! While I am personally enjoying the creative outlet these projects provide, Chi-Chi and Muffy are reaping the benefits of a toy box filled with beautiful, natural hand-crafted toys. It’s a win-win situation for the whole family!

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Not Just For The Birds

It is a crisp, yet sunny November morning. Despite the chill in the air, the little ones barely take notice. They are snug and warm, bundled up in their snowsuits and deeply engrossed in the important task at hand. Chi-Chi and Muffy are huddled over our feed bucket, enthusiastically scooping out sunflower seeds and sprinkling them on the ground. They are busy performing the responsibilities involved in caring for our family’s pets – the chickadees, blue jays, juncos, pheasants and giant colony of squirrels that reside on our property.

As I inch myself a little deeper into my cozy down-filled jacket, a smile forms on my lips. My approach to pets certainly provides for a simpler way of life during these busy and hectic days with a young family. A few scoops of seeds tossed into the birdfeeder every few days is the extent of care our feathered friends require. My life is free of poop to scoop, pricey vet bills, fur balls and that nagging and ever-present guilt that poor Rover has not had a walk in over a week. The wise words of my father echo through my mind. I can picture him standing in our backyard, waving at his numerous birdfeeders and firmly stating, “These birds are the best darn pets I’ve ever had the only pet a man needs”. His words may have been wise and his opinions strong, but his heart was soft. He no doubt developed this philosophy after enduring years of caring for and cleaning up after a menagerie of friends from the animal kingdom. Obviously, his children’s incessant pleading and whining forced him to stray from his strong beliefs. A herd of cattle, a crazy chicken, an African frog, two quail, four rabbits, three thousand honey bees, too many hamsters, countless fish and one very high-maintenance beagle are just of few of the critters my father welcomed into this home and heart.

Feeding the birds is not just “for the birds”. Chi-Chi and Muffy are learning valuable lessons about taking responsibility and nurturing another living creature. They are also developing an interest and appreciation for nature and our native wildlife. At 2 1/2, Chi-Chi is able to identify the different species of birds that frequent our feeder. Although a bit younger, Muffy also demonstrates an appreciation for these little creatures as he keenly and quietly observes them.

My plan to “keep it simple” is to learn from the mistakes of others and follow my father’s wise advice on pet parenting. Of course, this is the man who just recently tried to convince me to adopt a couple of baby goats. Perhaps he realizes that all the hassle, work and frustration that went hand-in-hand with our pets was well worth it for the benefit of the children. Perhaps he simply wants to see me suffer what he did!! Regardless, I think for the time being, I’ll stick to the birds!

Sunday, 18 November 2007

My Elf In Shining Armour

My husband does not fit the typical profile of a Christmas elf. Personally, I picture him as more of a “knight in shining armour” type with his tall athletic frame, dark tanned skin and broad shoulders. He recently surprised and impressed me, however, with his elf-like toy making abilities. After months of enduring my lengthy lectures and rants about the benefits of natural and handmade toys, he finally decided to roll up his sleeves and pitch in on my efforts to reinvent the contents of our family's toybox.

At 2 ½, Chi-Chi’s creative play is becoming more elaborate and complex. His quiet and peaceful moments of independent, imaginative play are welcome and appreciated around my busy household. It is much simpler to whip together a quick meal with Chi-Chi deeply engrossed in a farmyard scenario where Mr. Bunny crashed his fire truck into Mr. Horse's stall. Wishing to encourage this creative outlet for him, I thought he would find enjoyment in some type of structure to “house” his vehicles and animal friends. Browsing through natural toy websites, I quickly became aware that wooden dollhouses and barns can easily take a toll on one's pocketbook. A self-made structure seemed the best option.

My husband and I put our heads and hands together and created a wonderful little playhouse that will no doubt provide endless hours of entertainment in our home. A quick rummage through the yard and basement produced all the necessary project supplies. The two main floors of the structure were created from a remnant of a century-old barn board that was used as flooring in our home. Sticks and twigs from our property provided the beams and support pieces. The top platform was sliced off a log from my favorite childhood tree that my parents salvaged years ago. Hubby and I collaborated on the design of the project. I was responsible for sanding and finishing and he was in charge construction and assembly.

Chi-Chi’s little dollhouse is a child’s dream. This open-ended toy allows a child’s mind to drift and imagine. One moment it is an airport, the next a fire station. In the blink of an eye, Chi-Chi transports himself to Nanny and Graga’s house for a visit to pick apples and pet a sheep. Chi-Chi is also learning valuable lessons as he observes Mommy and Daddy collaborating on a project, lovingly building something with their hands especially for him. He's learning about being resourceful and creative by sorting through one's scraps to produce a beautiful and useful object. This little play house and the lessons and values that go with it are cetainly not something Chi-Chi could have found on the pages of the Sears Wish Book catalogue this Christmas!