Posts Tagged ‘imagination’

Sarah’s Silks

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Read about one of our favorite toy-manufacturers, Sarah’s Silks [story by Mike and Sarah Lee]:

The story of our toy-making business is a deeply personal one for us. Our oldest son Josh was in need of many dress-up options as he loved to play pretend. He required lots of pieces of beautifully colored, non-itchy fabric for his games. We found that the options in toy stores were limited and so we began to dye our own silk squares for him to play with, eventually bringing them to market. For 15 years, we have been offering a wide selection of natural fiber dress-ups and toys to stores all over the world and, ultimately, providing families like ours with beautiful, creative toys.

We chose silk as it is a natural fiber and renewable resource. Silk is an ancient product of China. Our silks are hand-hemmed in a small village near Shanghai which we have visited. The seamstresses are in their homes, often sitting in doorways, as their children play nearby. In addition, many of our products are sewn, ironed and packaged by women working in their homes in Sonoma County, CA. Our dyes are non-toxic and the silks are easily hand-washed.

At Sarah’s Silks, we are dedicated to helping create a better world through imaginative play. We believe that simple, open-ended toys are best for growing minds. Developing inner creativity at a young age leads to higher levels of creative thinking in adulthood. When children’s inner creative life is nurtured, they grow into more well-rounded, stronger, and creative contributing members of our society, eager to bring their gifts to the world. We are dedicated to simple, unique and beautiful toys for all of the children of the world. Through our work, we are reminded of the infinite possibilities of play.

We offer quality playsilks, toys and dress-ups for boys and girls between the ages of 3-10, that ignite the imagination, and capture the magical soul that lives in young children.

To see Chinaberry’s full selection of Sarah’s Silks’ products, please go to www.Chinaberry.com and type Sarah’s Silks in the search box.

Taking That First Step

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

I don’t know about you, but I am hooked on all the home decorating shows that are so popular now. Whether it is a do-it-yourself show, or a have-someone-do-it-for-you show, I’m there. Maybe part of the reason I am so into these shows is that my family and I have been living in a perpetual state of remodeling for the last several years. We bought our house 11 years ago, knowing that it would take ‘quite a while’ to get it into the state we wanted. The house was built in the early 1970’s, with the shag carpet and redwood siding to prove it. The kitchen didn’t have any cabinet doors and the floor was a cement slab, but the multi-levels and huge windows in every room captivated us. Even the lack of an oven didn’t dissuade us. You’d be surprised how well cookies turn out when baked in the barbeque. Well, after several years, we were finally ready to get started. The boys, of course, were convinced their bedrooms wouldn’t be finished until after they left for college, but I am happy to report they are now moved into their rooms and the oldest won’t graduate from high school until later this year. Ha!

One of the reasons we were so hesitant to start on this massive undertaking was that we were terrified of doing it ‘wrong.’ How would we know if we picked the right colors for the walls or the right flooring? There were so many details and so many choices for each thing that at times we were paralyzed with indecision. Finally, we just started. (I use the term ‘we’ rather loosely. I didn’t offer much in the way of physical labor; I was busy trying to regulate the temperature in the barbeque, but I did offer a lot in the way of support and ideas.)

Now, when I stand in my gorgeous, magazine-worthy kitchen (thank you, Scotty and Dad) and inhale the delicious aroma of dinner roasting in one oven while dessert bakes in the other, I think back on how uncertainty limited us for so many years, when all we had to do was take the first step. We finally stopped worrying about what anyone else would think of the choices we made. We weren’t doing all of this work for anyone other than ourselves and we needed to make it work for our family and no one else. I am trying to apply this lesson to other areas of my life as well. Some decisions are more critical than others, but when I remember that I am unique and that what is best for me and my family may not be best for someone else, it is easier to take the first step. Even if I have to pause and change my course a little, as long as I listen to my heart I know the end result will be beautiful.

Where Will Armchair Travels Take You?

Friday, September 18th, 2009

For a recent birthday, my boys gave me a great book about entertaining. Beautiful pictures with ornate silver, hors d’oeuvres, garden parties — you know, just what I do every weekend in my spare time! And yet, I just love to read through these books —  and cookbooks too, even though I’m not much of a cook. In fact, for years, I’d go to bed with a cookbook and absolutely devour them. Even though I don’t entertain too often, I absolutely love to read books about fabulous meals set with gorgeous dishes and freshly ironed tablecloths and just drink in the luscious photographs.

Am I dreaming? Perhaps, but I think that’s what these stunning books do – they transport us to the south of France, or a beautifully set table, or an extraordinary garden. Although my travels have not taken me too far from home, I’ve always counted on my books to take me places in my mind. And perhaps when I step outside on my deck, or pull another weed (or twenty!), I’ll take some bit of inspiration from these books.

As the summer comes to an end, consider doing some armchair traveling of your own with a book filled with stunning photos that inspire you. Cuddle up with your children and turn the pages – you may be surprised to find they are ooing and aahing right along with you!

Incredible Earth, Eye-Opening Photos of Our Powerful Planet (pictured above), can be found here:
http://www.chinaberry.com/prod.cfm/pgc/11200/sbc/11202/inv/15369

Out of the Mouths of Babes - Meow 101

Friday, July 17th, 2009

Gus Gus and Willow Berman ("Husband and Wife"). Kitten is hiding.

At Dinner one of my girls was speaking in a strange made-up language. When I asked her what she was doing, she said:

“I’m speaking “cat english” so our cats can understand me better.”  - Sakura, age 7

You and your little one will have a blast when you join this group of adorable toddlers as they explore the farmyard. Come along on their delightful and joyful journey as they try to discover just which animal says ”boo.” ”Does a pig say boo? Oh, no! A pig says oink! And a pig goes grunt as it sqwuffles in the mud. Oink, oink! Grunt, grunt!” Could it be the cow? The dog? How about the horse or the mouse?

You’ll be smiling right along with the children and the animals as you moo, whoo, buzz, and cheep your way to the surprise at the end when the mystery is revealed and you find out that it is you who says ”boo”!

Review by Tina Elliott

Celebrate Literacy Award Dinner

Monday, June 29th, 2009

By Tina Elliott

Recently I was privileged to attend the Celebrate Literacy Award dinner put on by the Greater San Diego Reading Association. I tend to take books and reading for granted, having been instilled with a love of reading by my mother so many years ago and, thanks to her, never, ever being without a good book to read as a child. Now, as an adult, I am surrounded by more books than I could possibly ever get through. (I work in a book store for goodness sake.) What delight there is to be found between the pages of a book - joy, wonderment, giggles, or suspense; characters showing strength of spirit in attempting to overcome challenges and making hard decisions. Reading opens so many doors for us, often without us even realizing it. How easy it is for us to forget that there are many, young and old alike, who do not have the means to own a book of their own, or, even more sadly, who are not able to read.

The Greater San Diego Reading Association (GSDRA) is a professional organization affiliated with the California Reading Association (CRA) and the International Reading Association (IRA). GSDRA’s goals are to promote literacy, provide activities on literacy issues, and advance the pursuit of life-long reading. Every year, the GSDRA holds a celebration dinner to acknowledge businesses and individuals within our community who go “above and beyond” in the area of literacy. This year, Chinaberry was very proud to receive the Jerry Crews Award, created to recognize those in the business community who exemplify kindness and support for GSDRA and reading education. What an honor for Chinaberry to be acknowledged by such a committed group of individuals.

Equally as exciting to us was being linked to the devoted individuals who were also honored. Our own longtime Chinaberry customer and storyteller extraordinaire Marilyn McPhie received the Special Award of Recognition for her work with the Books for Babies program (www.marilynmcphie.com), and Katherine Salmon received the Judith Parson Award for Outstanding Student Teacher.

The Celebrate Literacy Award recognizes organizations, institutions, and individuals who have made significant literacy contributions at the local, state, or provincial level. This year’s Celebrate Literacy Honorees included St. Luke’s Refugee Network (http://sudaneserefugees.org/); United Through Reading Transitions (www.UnitedThroughReading.org); Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson, co-authors of Armando and the Blue Tarp School, nominated for the 2009-2010 California Young Reader Medal; teacher David Lynch, the true-life inspiration for Armando and the Blue Tarp School; and Irwin Herman, “The Bookman” (www.TheBookman.org). In addition to these fabulous individuals and organizations, many teachers and educators from school districts throughout the county were recipients of the 2009 Award of Excellence.

How inspiring to be surrounded by these dedicated individuals who have devoted their lives to others, giving their time and energy to promoting literacy and working toward the goal of giving every child and adult the ability to own and, more importantly, read a good book.

Tina Elliott and Janet Kelly at the GSDRA Awards

Give Your Kids the Gift of Boredom this Summer

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Growing up in the 60s and 70s, I don’t recall my parents ever going into a panic because school was out and they had to entertain me. Come to think of it, did any parents in that generation ”entertain” their kids?! Nonetheless, I don’t seem to recall many bouts of boredom. Somehow, I managed to find things to do without a pony, an inflatable bounce house, or anything requiring a microchip.

So why do we parents so often feel the need to be entertainment directors? And since when is ”boredom” a bad thing? Now I’m not condoning letting our kids fend for themselves all day long, but this summer, I’m hoping we parents and grandparents can all just chill a little and not fret so much about the details of what our children are going to do with their free time. It’s summer vacation — not a NASA mission! Let’s take some of the pressure off ourselves and give our children some credit for using their imaginations. Better yet, let’s help them to cultivate it by letting them figure out some of the details themselves!

Something recently happened at our summer photo shoot that serves as a perfect example of this. We had three children for models, and their parents were a little nervous because the children had never met and were supposed to play together and look like they were having the time of their lives with some fairy wands — items the adults had no clue what to ”do” with. Even the photographer asked, ”What will the kids do with these?” I told him I wanted to leave that up to the children. When they arrived, each child chose a wand, and with all of us adults hovering in eager anticipation, they stood in a row like brave little soldiers in front of the photographer. With forced smiles and stiffly held wands, the line-up looked like something from Fort Bragg, as in ”Yes, SIR! Reporting for duty, SIR!” Now I was nervous. One wise mom suggested we walk away and start talking amongst ourselves. Within minutes after the children were left to their own devices, they forgot about us and the photographer, and soon, irresistible peals of laughter began filling the studio. Out of the corner of our eyes, we saw more joyous movement than a passel of puppies with chew toys (see photo above). The photographer laughingly said it was like photographing chaos. Two of the children actually began to cry when it was over. One of them (my grandson!) still asks his mom if he can play with the girls at the photography studio again.

That is the magic that can be found in stepping out of the way and allowing children spontaneous play with open-ended toys. Yes, we adults were close by and available, but we weren’t hovering and orchestrating their every move. Perhaps the ingredients for a really good summer might be to provide our children with playmates from time to time and let them figure out the rest. Give them a few well-chosen toys (cardboard boxes count!), plenty of outdoor time, lots of love, and knock off all the worrying about getting it ”right” as parents. Let’s give ourselves permission this summer to forget the bounce houses, microchips, and ponies and r-e-l-a-x — because isn’t that what summertime is really about?

Water Play

Friday, May 15th, 2009

Water will always hold a fascination for children. Whether they are physically in it or just watching it, children find equal parts excitement and relaxation from being around water.

Here are some suggestions for summertime play that include water:

  • Sit by a fountain. We were at the park last week and my kids were so excited by the loud spurt of the fountain and the subsequent mist sprinkling down on them.
  • Purchase a water table that can be used outside. I bought an inexpensive one a few summers ago, and on hot days my kids play with it in their bathing suits. Floating toy boats occupies them for hours.
  • Take your children out on a small row boat on the lake or a speedboat in the ocean and let the water spray hit their faces! Don’t forget the lifejackets.
  • Learn to swim. Our project for this summer is to teach my youngest son how to swim. In the past, he’s been hesitant about getting his face wet so we haven’t pressed the issue, but after some recent water safety lessons, he’s looking forward to getting back into the pool.
  • Don’t have a pool at your house? Neither do we, but we do have a plastic kiddie-pool that the kids like to sit and splash in to cool off during hot summer afternoons (I’ve been known to soak my feet in there too!). Splash parks are another fun way to stay cool and children don’t need to know how to swim. Wear waterproof swim shoes to prevent slippage on wet surfaces.
  • Turn on the sprinklers for a few minutes and let the kids run around on the lawn (Bonus: You’ll water the grass at the same time!). Throw in a few sponges to toss around and play splash tag.
  • Fill watering cans and let the kids water your garden.
  • Paint with water on the sidewalk. All you need is a bucket of water and a paint brush to create temporary art on the concrete.
  • Hit the beach. The smell of the ocean, the sound and force of the waves, and the feel of wet sand underfoot is an experience like no other.
  • My kids could spend all day at an aquarium, watching the fish in the tanks, getting hands-on in the tide pools, and learning about undersea creatures.
  • Give the kids a surprise and spray them with the water hose unexpectedly while they are playing outside! Or pull out a bucket of soapy water and some sponges to give the car a wash.
  • There probably isn’t an easier way for kids to connect with water than in a bath. A few cups, maybe a sieve and a spoon, and kids will happily play and pour water. Give them a few drops of liquid soap in a cup and have them stir up their own bubbles.

ZOO POPS: Animal Shape Frozen Treat Molds

Delicious. Healthful. Economical. Fun. For mere pennies a pop, your freezer will soon be turning out some of the coolest treats in town. Pour fruit juice, milk, gelatin, or any other liquid into the four individual plastic molds, insert the cool penguin handles, and six hours later you’ve got detailed, sculpted popsicles featuring either a lion, monkey, elephant, or polar bear. Each mold will take up 4.5 x 4 x 2.5 inches of freezer space. Includes 8 tasty recipes.

Movie Trailer: Where the Wild Things Are

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Wow, interesting… Where the Wild Things Are is going to be made into a movie. This is one of my favorite children’s books. The book came out a year before I was born so I grew up with Max and the “Wild Things.” Now, I read it often to my own kids who are just as mischievous as Max. Hopefully the movie will succeed in bringing the book to life and will remain true to Maurice Sendak’s original vision. Its release is currently scheduled for October 16, 2009.

Chinaberry Interviews Susan McKinley Ross

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Susan McKinley Ross creates fun: games, toys, crafts – anything involving fun for children. She licensed her first toy in early 2003, and she’s been busy ever since with her growing business, Idea Duck. I had the great pleasure of meeting Susan in 2004 when she was helping us select toys for the Chinaberry catalog. Today, we carry her award-winning board game, Qwirkle. When we had lunch together at Toy Fair last January, I could have listened to Susan for hours! Since we ran out of time, I thought I’d continue our conversation here and share it with you all!

Janet: When you were a child, immersed in toys and games, did you ever one day dream that you would become an award-winning game maker?  What DID you see yourself doing?  In other words, what were your aspirations?

Susan: Growing up, I had no idea there was such a thing as a toy designer. Or a game designer. I thought these products just magically appeared. The whole concept of product design was outside my realm of experience. We’re aware of authors, directors, fashion designers, but as a culture, we’re not very clued in to the people who design things like toys or silverware. Every single product was designed by someone and I’m fascinated by that. It’s a career I stumbled into, but if I had known it existed, I would have sought it out.

As a child, I spent hours making mud pies, playing with my dollhouse and inventing imaginary worlds for my miniature toy animals. I think that’s why I’m drawn to low-tech toys. I want to design toys that I would have enjoyed myself.

In elementary school, I planned to be a lawyer and do good things for the world. When I graduated from college, I was blessed to get a job working at Hospice. I still sing the praises of the amazing people who do Hospice work. Working at Hospice taught me how important it is to do the things you love to do. I realized I wanted to be doing something creative in my work life. It turns out I wanted to be designing toys and games, even though I didn’t know that was what I was headed for.

Janet: What were your favorite games growing up?

Susan: I’m lucky. My family played games often. They never thought that I was too young to play. They taught me whist (a simplified version of bridge) when I was six years old because they needed a fourth player. We played a lot of cribbage and a lot of gin rummy. We played Scrabble, Monopoly, Password, Pay Day, Rummikub and Mille Bournes. When I was in high school, I played a lot of card games with my friends - hearts, spades, canasta and pinochle. We also played Trivia Pursuit and Pictionary. These are all very popular games that anyone my age would have had access to. I was just lucky to grow up with people who liked to play games.

Janet: Could you tell us a little about the monthly game night you and your husband host in your home? What is your favorite game now?

Susan: My husband, Chris, introduced me to a much wider variety of games than I knew about. Since we both love games, we’ve hosted a monthly Game Night for 12 years. It’s similar to a book club. Ten to fifteen people come over and we break into a few groups and play games. Game Night gives us a regular opportunity to play lots of games with lots of different people. It’s a fun way to spend an evening with our friends, and it’s a huge help to me as a game designer.

My favorite game is Puerto Rico. I also love Dominion and Agricola. These are complex games that offer many routes to victory. I like games that offer choices, so that if your first plan is blocked, you can still puzzle out a good back-up plan. One of the things I like about Qwirkle is that as you play, the board grows and so does the decision tree. Late in the game, there are lots more choices about where to play. You get to search the board to find the best possible place to play.

Janet: You’re such a creative idea person!  What inspires you?

Susan: When I started doing this work, I was mostly inspired by looking at all the amazing products out there and trying to figure out what made them interesting. I’m a huge fan of HABA toys. They’re so beautiful! When I see their toys, it makes me dream of designing something just as wonderful.

It’s always inspiring to see something beautiful, be it a toy or a greeting card or a children’s book. Toy Fair is a wonderful event and it makes my head spin with new ideas. I love it. But my absolute favorite part of going to New York for Toy Fair is my yearly pilgrimage to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Going there inspires me for weeks.

The best part of my job is when I’m in the throes of inspiration. Sometimes I wake up with a great idea and I’m blessed that it’s my job to hold onto that idea and develop it. It is completely compelling. I really let myself indulge in the joy of inspiration because it helps sustain me when I hit the difficult stages of product development.

Janet: If you could have only one item in the Chinaberry catalog, what would it be?

Susan: I love the Chinaberry catalog! When I read your catalog, it’s like having a conversation with a good friend. I’m always trying to find new things I enjoy, and Chinaberry is a great way to do that.

The thing that I’ve been meaning to order from Chinaberry is the new Himalayan Salt Inhaler. I’ve always been fascinated by the Neti Pot, but this looks even better. Leave it to Chinaberry to find a useful new version of a classic item.

Janet: And, lastly, tell us about your May Day ritual.  I know I’ve been getting your May Day flowers for the past five years, and I’ve saved every single photo.  Tell us how it started and how many pictures you send.

Susan: When I was growing up, my Mom and my grandparents taught me about May Day. They taught me to make a bouquet of flowers, leave it on our neighbor’s porch, ring the doorbell and hide in the bushes. Of course, the neighbors always knew it was us! But it was fun to do anyway. In high school, my cousin Stephanie and I would get up very early and drive around town delivering May Day flowers. And candy. We didn’t have enough flowers for everyone, so we gave some people candy. The best part was that we’d pick a few completely random houses to leave flowers.

Eventually I figured out a sneaky way to deliver hundreds of May Day bouquets. I make one beautiful bouquet, take a picture of it and email it. A few years ago I decided to turn the photo into a card so my favorite people would get a love note on May Day. I send out between 200 and 250 cards.

It gives me great pleasure to keep this May Day tradition alive. In general, I’m holiday crazy. But I especially adore celebrating May Day because it’s entirely my decision to celebrate it. It’s not a commercial holiday. There’s no apparatus to support May Day. It’s just a great excuse to remind people that I’m thinking of them. I usually deliver 5-10 actual bouquets on May Day. It’s a wonderful opportunity to see people and let them know how grateful I am for their presence in my life.

Janet: Be sure to check our blog May 1 for Susan’s 2009 May Day bouquet!

Unplugged Play: No Batteries. No Plugs. Pure Fun.

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

710 Games and Activities for Ages 12 Months to 10 Years
by Bobbi Conner

You will never hear the words ”I’m bored” again from your children if you own this extraordinary book. It would take years for anyone to play all the games and do all the activities within its pages, so there’s the grand feeling of always having something new and marvelous to play, learn, or create. It is set up so you can begin when your child is a year old and keep going for ten years, adding more and more ways to imagine and create, run, jump, skip and exercise, be outside with nature, laugh and be silly, and share good times with others. All this instead of watching TV, surfing the Net, or playing video games that aren’t really about being connected, happy, and alive.

What a gift this book is. There are great pages with information about what children need at every stage of growing — how creative play helps children develop healthily and with joy. Each age range has sections: Solo Play, for the times you need children to play on their own; Play Ideas for Parent and Child to do together; Playing with Others, and Birthday Party and Group Play. The appendixes support family game nights and creating a well-stocked toy cupboard to be ready for fun at any time. I can’t imagine a childhood without this book now, so I am giving one to every child I know and love.