Contributor Archive

Fully Engaging With Our Children

Friday, February 13th, 2009

Janet's daughter and grandson

When I was recently at the grocery store with my 5-year-old grandson, the clerk asked if I’d like help out to the car. But, umm, all I had bought was a carton of eggs. I laughed and said that while I may be a grandma, I’m not too feeble to carry a dozen eggs to my car! The dour clerk told me they had to ask everyone that question or they’d ‘get in trouble.’ She then smiled and said, ‘Have a nice day!’ (You just know she’d also be in hot water if she didn’t say that!)

As a grandmother who wants her grandson to grow up to be a common-sense kind of guy and an independent thinker, I felt I had been handed one of those ‘teachable moments.’ For the life of me, though, I was at a loss about what to say! I so wanted to instill in him the value of thinking something through rather than just doing what you’re told because somebody said you’d ‘get in trouble’ if you didn’t. Suddenly I felt like a loser grandma because I didn’t have a clue how to get this principle across to a 5-year-old. Yikes. Why do we always put such pressure on ourselves to suddenly transform into Ward Cleaver at times like this? Why do I always feel as if I should have pearls of wisdom dropping from my mouth around my grandson? But mindful parenting (and grandparenting!) isn’t scripted any more than mindful customer service is (take note, big grocery store chain!), and it usually isn’t what we ’say’ to children that makes the lasting impression. It’s all the gloriously messy and rich and colorful stuff in between. It’s about fully engaging with our children on a daily basis, being in the moment rather than going by a script as we explore critters in the backyard, learn a new board game, or try a ‘yucky’ new food.

Years ago, my mother-in-law cautioned me not to parent too much ‘by the book,’ and she was right. In retrospect, when I think of the things I did right as a parent, it was allowing my daughter to explore at her own pace, and many times that meant refraining from pressing for that ‘teachable moment.’ Sometimes in our eagerness to be the ‘best’ parents we can be, we end up overstimulating our children with unduly long lectures and the latest ‘educational’ toys, bombarding them with so many activities and so much stuff that their little brains and souls go on overload.

With this new year, my wish is that we remember the importance of nurturing our child’s natural curiosity and thought processes, and that we cut ourselves some slack regarding the ways we go about doing it. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children (and ourselves) is simply to be there for them with open ears and hearts, lovingly listening, patiently guiding. Call it mindful parenting or just plain common sense; you can’t go wrong with this approach.

Featured Chinaberry Employee - Leah King

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

Introducing . . . Leah King!

When it comes to wearing many hats, Leah King is . . . well, Queen! Leah first walked through Chinaberry’s doors in 1999 and found her niche in Customer Service. Nearly ten years later, Leah says, “What I truly do is work for our customers. When I’m on the phone, I really want to make sure that they have a pleasant experience. I want to represent Chinaberry and the products we carry in an honest and accurate manner so that customers will enjoy their experiences with the items they order from us.”

Since April 2008, detail-oriented Leah has dedicated much of her time to our new Quality Assurance Department (in addition to continuing to work part-time in Customer Service!).

Not only does she verify safety and compliance information, but also our own product standards. Is the product safe? Non-toxic? Age appropriate? Leah leaves no stone unturned.

As you may remember, the summer and fall of 2007 brought a plethora of toy recalls for lead in paint. In response to these recalls, the Consumer Product Safety Commission Improvement Act (CPSIA) of 2008 was created. The CPSIA not only  covers toys, but ALL products meant for children 12 and younger, including books, clothing, electronics, housewares, school equipment, and more. Leah has been diligently contacting the manufacturer of every item we carry and following up with them regarding the new guidelines developed by the CPSIA. It has been no small undertaking!

On a lighter note, I asked Leah to tell us her top two all-time favorite Chinaberry products, and she enthusiastically said the Neti Pot and Widu hairbrush. She’s given them both to everyone she knows. (Given the number of people Leah knows, I’m surprised we have any left in stock!)

When asked if she could have dinner with any person in the world (what would an interview be without THAT question?!), who would she choose and why, she said: “There are so many different people I can think of, but I guess it would be Desmond Tutu. For as much as he has fought for, lived through, and witnessed, he never fails to have a smile on his face and joy in his heart. He loves a good joke, too!”

We shudder to think what life would be like here at Chinaberry without Leah, but if she were to choose another profession, she says she’d like to be an environmental and social consultant for businesses to help them operate in a cost-effective yet sustainable and socially responsible manner — either that or be a rock star. That’s our Leah!

A Worthwhile New Year’s Resolution

Monday, December 29th, 2008

(Click image to purchase these Lead-Free Crystal Champagne Glasses)

(Click image to purchase these Lead-Free Crystal Champagne Glasses)

I’d been standing in line at the grocery store for what felt like longer than a flight to Thailand. The minute another woman got in line behind me, a clerk appeared at the next register saying, “I can take the next person in line!” (You probably know where this is going, right?) Yes, the woman behind me hopped over to that register faster than I could say “Huh??”, and by the time she pulled out of the parking lot with her groceries, I was still waiting in my line, and a line had now formed at the other register as well. When I was finally greeted by the clerk’s “Find everything you need today?” I was imagining that woman already at home knitting in front of the fire. Arrgh.

Whenever I get together with friends these days, our conversation generally includes at least one horror story about a recent brush with rudeness, and I’m not talking about misplaced salad forks. Of course, compared to the growing risk of a human flu pandemic, a national etiquette crisis may seem like pretty small stuff, but I’m obviously not alone in my concern. I read in the “U.S. News & World Report” that nine out of ten Americans think that rudeness is not only a serious problem that’s getting worse, but it is also creating more opportunities for violence. (more…)

Chocolate-Almond Lace Cookies

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Makes about 20 cookies
My most sought after holiday cookie recipe

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 T flour
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup ground, blanched almonds
2 T milk
1 tsp almond extract
3-1/2 oz semisweet chocolate, melted

Preheat oven to 350°. Line baking sheets with foil; butter and flour foil.
Melt 1/2 cup butter in medium skillet over medium heat. Add sugar, flour and salt and stir until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes.

Mix in almonds and milk and stir until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and blend in almond extract. Let cool slightly.

Drop batter onto prepared baking sheets by teaspoons, spacing 3-1/2 to 4 inches apart. Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until light golden brown, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Let stand about 2 minutes to firm slightly, then remove cookies from foil and transfer to rack to cool.

Using thin metal spatula, spread layer of chocolate on bottom side of half of cookies. Cover with flat side of plain cookie to form sandwich. Cool on rack until chocolate is set.

Getting to Know Jim Weiss

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

At a recent conference, I had the privilege of spending some time with storyteller Jim Weiss and his delightful wife and partner, Randy. Chinaberry has been offering Jim’s storytapes for over eighteen years now. If anyone knows the value of storytelling, it’s Jim. He grew up listening to his father tell stories, and the memories of those magical moments never left him. For over 30 years, Jim has been captivating adults and children alike with his own magical storytelling ability. The following is my attempt at recreating our conversation:

Chinaberry: What do you feel are some of the main values of storytelling?

Jim: It’s a wonderful way to learn facts and hard data. Instead of just talking names and dates, tell them the story of Galileo and Beethoven. That gives them something to hang the data on. As they remember the story, they will remember the facts.

Stories are powerful. They carry the value of our culture and what we would like to see in our culture. It’s why someone once said, “Let me write the stories of a nation, and it’s more powerful than passing its laws.”

Telling a story is a great gift the teller gives to the listener. When I read, I am giving you one kind of gift, the sentiments of the author. But when I tell you a story, I am giving you me. It’s a beautiful way to build a bond between people. The walls, which we have all built, fall down. The armor we carry falls off. I have been in schools where 2-1/2-year-olds are wearing more armor than Sir Lancelot due to the horrifying experiences they have endured in their short lives. You can reach people like that through the vehicle of a story. You can reach people at their mental, emotional, and soul levels. Chinaberry readers will know what I mean by that.

Chinaberry: What are the key ingredients in the stories you choose?

Jim: For me, I choose to tell classics and stories from history for several reasons. 1) Some of the most fascinating characters are in these stories. That’s why they have lived for centuries. 2) They give us windows into other eras and other lands. It’s hard to make an enemy out of someone whose stories you know, because you understand that person too well to make them an object.

When Aesop told his stories over 2,000 years ago, he was a slave. The people who owned him thought he was just another object. Through his stories they learned who he was. They then set him free. He earned his freedom through his tales. I look for stories with meanings. I try not to hit anyone over the head with the moral of the stories, but there are always some ethical underpinnings to them. Of course, I look for entertainment value, but also for the meaning. Children are growing up in an age where we need to give them the best of the best.

Chinaberry: What stories are your personal favorites? (more…)

Never Underestimate the Value of a Good Hello

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

I learned a fair amount about parenting from my “firstborn,” a larger-than-life golden retriever. Perhaps the most important lesson she taught me was to never underestimate the value of a good hello. Every day after work, I would come home to a whirling dervish of a dog. I soon learned that how I handled those first few moments of togetherness could make or break the quality of my (our!) evening.

A quick ruffling of her head with a “Hey there, Sandra McJean!” meant I’d be in for a long evening of “Stop chewing on the armoire!” and “Why are you barking?!” On the other hand, if I gave Sandy 10 minutes of undivided attention upon my arrival, it made all the difference. Given a little play time, some serious petting, and encouraging words, she’d be good to go for the rest of the night. When I became mother to my first daughter, I recognized the drill! Sure enough, the tone for an entire evening had a lot to do with how those first few minutes were managed. Did my daughter feel seen and heard-truly welcomed and full of my love for her, or did she feel overlooked and insignificant, leaving her empty and wanting more, more, MORE!? (more…)

Featured Chinaberry Employee - Mary Arter

Monday, December 1st, 2008

Janet: Tell me the story of when, where, and why you found yourself at Chinaberry!

Mary: I started working at Chinaberry in 1987, when my children were 8 and 11. The story of how I came here is one of those serendipitous experiences that sometimes occur (some people say they are always occurring) in life. I had been at home with my children since my oldest was born and was ready for something new. One Sunday evening I was bemoaning my need to get out of the house to my sister-in-law. She tried to reassure me, saying, “Something will show up; it always does.” I was skeptical. The very next morning, she called, saying “Here’s your job” and put Ann, Chinaberry’s founder, on the phone with me. My sister-in-law owned a shop selling used children’s clothes and that morning Ann and her daughter, Elizabeth, had come in looking for clothes for Elizabeth’s doll. They made their purchase and left, then turned around, came back into the store, and said, “You might think this is crazy, but my husband and I sell children’s books. Do you know anyone who might want to work with us?”

My sister-in-law said she knew the perfect person and called me right there on the spot! We arranged for me to come for an interview the next day. Now, mind you, I had not worked outside the home for 11 years, had not touched a typewriter since college, and had never even looked at a computer. I am also a slow mover, taking time with whatever I’m doing. Ann and Ed were speedy types and wanted someone to take some of the burden off them. The business (which was located in the garage of their home) was growing and they had two young children; it was just getting to be more than they could handle. I am forever grateful that they were willing to take a chance on a completely inexperienced, computer-phobic, “process-oriented” person who loved children’s books. I was like a kid being let loose in a candy shop!

Janet: How would you describe what you do now?

Mary: Over the 20+ years I’ve been here, I’ve at least had a finger in just about every job, from packing orders in the warehouse and answering phones in Customer Service to entering and processing orders. (more…)

The Saga of Cindy Johnson

Friday, November 21st, 2008

I no longer remember how I came up with the idea to create Cindy Johnson. But it is with great joy that I now share my most favorite (and effective) parenting tool for toddlers and preschoolers. As you well know, this age group can exhibit some pretty disconcerting behavior at times. For me, the invention of Cindy Johnson dissipated everything from the ugliest of department store debacles to nerve-racking back seat conniptions.

When my daughter Ann was nearly 3, I made a 7-1/2-inch paper doll that looked just like her. (Well, as much like her as any non-drawing mom could be expected to draw.) Although I didn’t know a “Cindy” or a “Johnson,” I named my creation “Cindy Johnson.” On one side, she had a smile on her face, and on the flip side, she had a frown. I used clear Contac paper to “laminate” Cindy, which, after 21 years, has preserved her appearance better than Vitamin E has preserved mine.

I never left home without Cindy Johnson. Her permanent residence was in my purse, so I could whip her out at a moment’s notice, no matter where we were. Whenever my daughter’s attitude rivaled that of a Pekingese without food, I knew it was the perfect time for Cindy Johnson to make her appearance. “Ann,” I would say, “I feel like a Cindy Johnson story right now, but I need you to be quiet so I can tell it.” Neither “time-outs” nor threats of logical consequences could bring about quiet in such record time. Because I tell impromptu stories about as well as I draw, I marvel to this day that my daughter was so engaged by these simple stories that generally all followed the same basic outline: 1) Cindy Johnson and her mom would be having a pleasant time together (smiling face). 2) A conflict would arise. 3) Cindy would be very, very angry because she didn’t get her way (frowning face). (more…)

Chinaberry Interviews Author Staton Rabin

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Each of us here at Chinaberry has his/her own personal favorite authors. Staton Rabin is one of my top three. Several years ago, I had the great pleasure of meeting her in person at a Starbucks in NYC when she was in the final phase of writing The Curse of the Romanovs. I had intended to ask her some questions that I could share with our customers, but I became so mesmerized listening to her talk about the Romanov story that I didn’t want to break the spell. That’s the kind of storyteller Rabin is – spellbinding! Now that we’ve got our blog up and running, I decided to email her with a few questions. Perhaps not as much fun as chatting with her in Starbucks, but you can’t beat your computer for convenience. I’m very pleased to introduce to you Staton Rabin!

We’re currently carrying two of her books (which she so generously autographed!): Black Powder and The Curse of the Romanovs.

Janet:  When did you first decide to make a living as a writer?  And, as a child, did you ever dream of becoming a writer? If not, what DID you dream of becoming?

Staton: When I was growing up, writing was the family business — my parents and my older brother were all writers. I suppose if I’d come from a family of plumbers, I would have grown up to be a plumber.  But when I was a kid, what I really dreamed of doing someday was becoming a U.S. Senator — or a magician.  I still know a couple of good “tricks,” but I never did run for the Senate.

Janet:  So many of your books revolve around time travel.  If you could travel back in time, where would you go? (more…)

Chinaberry Interviews Award-Winning Author Jane Yolen

Friday, October 24th, 2008

Jane Yolen with her Grandkids - 2002 - Photo from

Jane Yolen has long been one of our favorite authors here at Chinaberry. Ann still remembers when she gave away the last 20 copies of Jane’s book Dreamweaver back in 1982. Each of the 20 autographed copies was sent free with orders over $40.00. Many years later, Jane is still autographing books for Chinaberry. Ann and I had the honor of visiting with her as she autographed books for us.

For those of you not familiar with Jane Yolen, she has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the 20th Century, having written more than 200 books for children, young adults, and adults. It’s not every day one gets to spend several hours alone with Jane Yolen, so I decided to seize the moment, grab a steno pad, and ask her if she wouldn’t mind answering a “few” questions. (more…)