December 21, 2007

give, give, give!

Do you have a few last minute gifts to pick up, or to make?

I do. But I'm going to forget about them. Instead, I'm going to the mall.

I'm serious. At the local mall, there is a big Christmas tree with lots of names still on it, of kids who have real needs - like warm coats and clothes for school - and who could really use a Christmas present from a friend like me (and you).

I'm going to go pick a name off the tree for each person left on my gift list. I'll take note of the child's name, age, and any other information there is about her or him. I'll buy her or him a new coat, a pair of sneakers, socks, mittens and hats, art supplies, or whatever they've asked for. Then I'm going to wrap the gifts right there at the mall, drop them back at the gift tree, and then go home.


Once I get home, I'll make another little gift out of each of those big gifts. It will go something like this: I'll grab a Christmas card (or make one) and write something like:
This year, your gift is a winter coat for Sam. Sam is seven years old and lives at Haven House, a home for children of incarcerated mothers. Thanks for helping Sam get something he really needed!
I think I'll make a little token to represent the item and then put the card and the token into a box and wrap it up in nice paper with a fancy bow. Voila! Double gift, and it was something that somebody really needed.

This might seem like something that your family members (or whoever you have left to get gifts for) wouldn't like, or might think is weird. But you might be surprised at how much they appreciate it. So... maybe we can meet in the Food Court for a latte?

December 13, 2007

Holiday Crafting with the Kids

paper roll ornament

We are looking into more creative ways to reuse materials and get the kids involved in holiday decoration over at Two Green Chickens. Come on by and share your ideas!

December 3, 2007

toys without the tox


Has anyone else been bothered by all the horrible news about toys lately? With the holidays upon us, all the news about lead, phthalates and asbestos in children's toys seems particularly ominous to me. I've never liked the part of Christmas where kids are overwhelmed in beeping, spinning plastic toys and the city trash collectors have to do double-duty to haul away all the packaging and wrapping. But the pollution that's in our kids' toys is far worse. It's not that I ever thought that plastic doo-dads made in China were particularly good for kids, but lead, for crying out loud?

First, everyone should take action to let Congress know we need decent safety standards to protect kids from nasty chemicals. And after we've been responsible citizens, we can turn to being responsible consumers, and the toys we buy for the kids we love.

My suggestion? Let's make our own toys this year!

I love making toys, and Christmas is a great excuse for me to get Santa's workshop going on my kitchen table and make a whole bunch of them. So I thought I'd share some of my favorite resources on toy-making, and ask y'all to share yours, too.

bad kitty, a wicked but cuddly sock monster

My all-time favorite toy to make is a sock monster. All you need is rudimentary sewing skills, some old socks, polyester fiberfill or other toy stuffing, and your basic needle, thread, pins, scissors, etc. Sock monsters can be incredibly simple little goblins, or complicated animals with long, curling tails and embroidered features - kids seem to love all of them, no matter how well (or poorly) you can sew. The best book I know for sock monster instruction is "Making Stupid Sock Creatures" by John Murphy (read my previous post about this great book here).

knitted momerath village

There are oodles of resources on the web and in the library for knitting toys. This blog is devoted to toy knitting, and includes an index with lots of free patterns. I love Jess Hutch's toys, and her book is a gem (if you can get your hands on one). Lots of knitting books with kid and baby patterns feature toy patterns in among the sweaters and hats, especially books by Zoƫ Mellor and Debbie Bliss. "The Knitted Teddy Bear" by Sandra Polley is a great resource for knitters of all skill levels who want to make old-fashioned, cuddly teddy bears. I also really like "New Knits on the Block" by Vickie Howell, which includes not just softies but all kinds of neat costumes and accessories. "Family Circle Easy Toys" is a classic with both knit and crochet patterns - the copy in my local library has been well-loved in its decades-long tenure there.

toy books

For stuffed animals, dolls and doll clothes, a wonderful book I picked up recently is "Toys to Sew" by Claire Garland. Her toys range from ridiculously easy to not-very-hard, and the patterns are way cute.

And finally, puppets! You can make a puppet out of just about anything, and while you could make a puppet and give it as a gift, making puppets together with kids is so much more fun. I just picked up a copy of a beautiful book called "Puppets Unlimited with Everyday Materials," by Anushka Ravishankar & Gita Wolf. The authors include detailed instructions for making stick puppets, string puppets and many others based on traditional Indian puppetry, with regular junk from around your house. Their focus is on making the puppets together with children. Then you can make your own stage and celebrate Christmas Eve with a puppet show - a great gift for kids and grown-ups alike.

Have fun making some toys for the kids on your list this year... and don't forget to take action!