Friday, October 19, 2012

Toys Worth Santa's Money

As you know I have six children aged 2 1/2 to 16. I was going to calculate how many Santa bundles that works out as but my brain started spinning wildly on it's axle by the time my calculations reached child 3 and one on the way, now was she born before Christmas or after? So I gave up.

I actually once worked out exactly how many nappies I've changed over the years and then wrote a  letter to the nappy company announcing that after x number of nappies and the successful toilet-training of little boy I was delighted to inform them I was no longer their customer and could they send me a prize. Sadly after searching and searching I could find neither address nor e-mail I could send it to so they never saw it and I never got my well deserved prize.

That was before little girl #5 came along and now I'm wondering how on earth I'm going to train her. She is completely in agreement with the theory and solemnly promises me every time that she's going to shout


So far she has succeeded a few times in announcing with that give-away pose and reddening complexion


 As a matter of fact, don't wait for a toilet training post here as I haven't the slightest clue how I trained the other five. Either it just magically happened or it was so traumatic my brain has blocked it out!! One or the other. If I succeed maybe I'll rewrite that letter and post it on the nappy mega-company's Facebook page!

Well anyway, I'm supposed to be writing about toys not pee pee.

Whatever the number of Santa bundles that have appeared in this house, it has amounted to. A LOT of toys. A LOT. Believe me, I know about toys. In this post I'm going to go through what I think are toys that are worth spending money on. Our children all have very different personalities so I'm going to mainly include what has been universally successful and not what suited a particular child's quirky taste. For that reason I'm not going to include 'How To Speak Zombie' (complete with push button sounds to perfect pronunciation) because that's an individual sort of taste!!

Here's a few thoughts before you buy any toy.

What is the Price:Play Value ratio?  If a toy does only one thing, or, I guarantee you, makes a noise, it's play value is very limited.  I doubt if a single child has ever learned the alphabet or how to spell from an electronic push-button toy.  These toys are great fun in the toy-shop while you are browsing but (IMHO) not worth wasting your money on.

Do you want the toy to last...maybe passed onto younger siblings or even grandchildren? Then it's worth investing in good quality timeless toys.

Do you hate picking up tiny pieces or are you the sort of person who knows exactly what every 2mm piece of Lego is for.  Take that into account.

Are you or Dad likely to sit with a child helping out with a toy which needs construction, supervision or a kit?  If you're not, don't buy those sort of toys, the pieces will be lost in no time or the project started and disappointingly abandoned.

Battery requirement?? A reasonably priced toy can very quickly become very very expensive.

How is the toy packaged and marketed?  Highly marketed fashionable toys are rarely worth the money and you are often simply paying for the expensive packaging or to cover the marketing.  Teach children to be discerning while looking at toy do not get the entire outer space with that spaceship.

Do you like the look of it? Will you mind it lying around. I really believe that children must like colours other than brash primaries and gaudy pinks.  Toys are the tools of our children's trade, and with that in mind, I think can also be tools in educating them in beauty.  The same goes for their music, literature and past-times. We need to take the harness in a culture which often glorifies crassness and lead children to something greater than that.  They spend so much time with their toys, go for ones that will uplift their souls and their character. (I think so anyway)

Here Goes

Doll-House / Castle

Both the doll-house and the castle (not pictured) got a huge amount of use in our house.  Our slightly girly purple castle finally fell apart after years of being played with constantly with a growing collection of princesses, warriors, ghouls and dragons of every kind.  The doll house is still growing strong after 12 years and is in the process of being re-decorated by daughter #4 (aged 10).  You can upgrade the chunky toddler appropriate furniture and people to those more suitable for older children...which is exactly what Santa did last year. (and again this year after the family had all their limbs pulled off by #6 during the Paralympics!!)

This time he's going for resin.  


It is well worth building up a good collection of puppets.  A theatre is an optional extra which I'd only purchase when and if the children show an interest.  Our puppets have been pulled out repeatedly over the years for shows of every type.  Even the teenagers have rummaged for them of late in order to stage a production for the little ones.  There are great books of short plays suitable for children's puppetry available or the children can write their own.  Just be prepared to be the audience of one for very very long soliloquies by four year olds. 

My favourite puppets in the world are Folkmanis.

They are gorgeous, affordable and the range is huge.  Check out their website here, and in particular look at the gorgeous character puppets.

Radio-Flyer Wagon

Our Radio Flyer is in a bit of a rusty state having been loved, bashed, clunked and trundled through adventures in hail, rain, snow by all 27 cousins and 23 neighbour children.  It is absolutely structurally sound though and the rust is our fault for wintering it out year in year out. Only a day or so ago John said he's going to sand the rust off and repaint it for the next ten years of bashery.

 Radio Flyer have brought out more updated versions of this iconic wagon which have padded seats, seatbelts mp3 outlets etc.  I dunno...if it's not broken, don't fix it. It's not childhood unless you've taken a few tumbles.  This is so classic and versatile I'd go for the original version.  We've had babies wrapped up in rugs and pillows joining in the fun.

Art and Craft Materials

I really, really recommend you go to town in this area.  Don't just stick with the foam sheets and glitter glue you can buy anywhere.  If you want your children to think outside the artistic box, you need to provide them with some outside the box materials.  Oh...and buy decent paintbrushes even for small children (within reason and budget but £1 shop ones are a waste of £1)

For Ireland I recommend Cregal Art, they are a Galway based family run business.  I have telephoned them from time to time not even too sure what I wanted and they have gone above and beyond the call of duty. 

For UK I recommend  Baker Ross, they have a total treasure trove of stuff at very reasonable prices.  They ship to Ireland too and have set rates though you need to keep an eye on weight.

Sorry, my American and International friends, you'll just have to find your own!


These are just simply the most well thought out, interesting, outside the box, funny, compact, affordable and just brilliant craft kits there are available on the market.  Believe me, I have trawled the internet with the precision of a mother removing nits for anything to do with art/craft (being my own area of interest).  These are THE best.  I have never, never, never been disappointed with anything Klutz. I think between all the children and so many Santa bundles we just about have practically every Klutz book ever published. 

(except that rogue one peeping out-that's a hilarious French baby sounds book we got in France which we already had in English.  I'll be posting about books shortly so I'll tell you about it then.)

They are worth the money.

Check out their fun website here.


Here again I suggest you pull out the stops.  We were first introduced to the magic of a well stocked dress-up box in Thirlestane Castle, Scotland which we visited when the (three) children were small.  Part of the tour was the nursery which featured a dress-up trunk filled with real costumes, props, wigs, hats.  It was just Heaven for the children.  Ever since then I have been adding to our trunk.  Every school show, every Halloween, every time a cousin or friend visits, basically all the time, the dress-ups are hauled out.  The place looks like Armageddon afterwards but takes only minutes to clear up.

As children get older try and build up some real theatrical supplies and props.  They are easily available online.  Keep your eyes peeled.  I have picked up some very high quality additions to our collection for next to nothing in TK Maxx, EBay and so on.  I am considering adding some adult sized items as our older children are still interested in rummaging.  Sometimes I slip a few new purchases into the trunk, say nothing and let them discover them at a later date.  

(My trunk has a very special meaning for me, it was the trunk my mother used when she left Ireland  at the age if 15 to work in Scotland.  When I look at my own almost 15 year old I feel so sad for her.  Ireland really has such a poignant history of emigration. It had a happy ending as she met my father, another Irishman abroad, in the Legion of Mary in Edinburgh and married him whereupon they returned home.)

What's inside?...

It's definitely worth spending some effort on this and it can be built up with no real pinch.

This Little Guy

Was given to our almost 15 year old when she was one.  It has never been put away and is as good as new. It will take the weight of an adult no problem and it is practically impossible for a child to fall off it. Great purchase.  The proof of the pie is that it is still being made with the exact same design. (Little Tykes)

Toy Cooker

A note on toy cookers, there is no need for a huge expensive space-hogging toy kitchen, your child will tire of it every bit as quickly as any other toy.  We had a lovely (big) one and I ended up donating it to our children's pre-school.  That said, they do have great play-value but just consider the space you have available before buying.

We had this little one and the children got great fun out of it for several years.  It's actually in the attic, I must get it down for our youngest.

And just look at this sweet is that?

The Obvious 

Lego, Playmobil, Sylvanian Families...all expensive at point of purchase but they can be built up into a great collection and will be played with by your grandchildren when the price has long been forgotten. It's also an easy option to suggest to grandparents unsure of what to give as gifts.  They are timeless, quality and have endless play-value.  I'd go so far as to say Sylvanian families are our children's most played with toy. As a matter of fact, I really like playing with them myself...I think I'd like to live in Sylvania!

And Of Course

Not forgetting...

( I couldn't resist!)

 Please comment with any ideas you have as I still have a few years of trying to get ideas ahead of me.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Have You Eyes? What Do You See?

Have you seen the movie Avatar?  I saw it just once some time ago and though I really enjoyed it I can't remember much of the details of the story except that it was visually beautiful. If you follow me on Pinterest you'll know that I love blue, so the beautiful blue race with their huge eyes really enchanted me. But one thing I do remember well was the bond between the two main characters and how they expressed the depth of that bond.  When Jake and Neytiri commit to each other in a permanent bond (marriage?) the phrase they use is not 'I Love You', which is beautiful but often used as a lie.  The phrase the Na'vi race in the movie traditionally use is 'I SEE You'. I thought that was powerful.

For some reason I was thinking of that phrase a few days ago and what to see someone really can mean.  How has our culture affected how we look.  Oh yeah yeah, we're busy busy busy, we have no time to stop and stare...stop and smell the roses...stop and this...stop and that...but you know, we don't just need to stop.  As well as stopping we need to learn how to look, how to see.  What do we see when we look at people? 

Yes indeed we are busy, we don't have much time  how many times have you read a post on Facebook or said yourself just how beautiful children are when they're asleep?  Why is it that that is the moment we recognise that that little person is precious?  Because that is the time we look at them without an outside factor blurring our vision.  Life is fleeting and flies by at breakneck speed as we all know, we have pressure, and worries and after-school to keep up with. We think we don't have time to pass more than a cursory glance at those who pass us by, maybe a little more for those who share our household.  People in cars, people online, one face melting into another in an anonymous blur.  Faceless, anonymous...attackable.  When we look...when we see properly, we might just see that it's not a faceless entity that's's someone.  

I was never the world's most uncomplaining pregnant mother, I'm afraid I have to admit my default condition was moan, groan, complain, whinge, whine.  But every so often when I was alone and I'd feel the heave of little limbs and suddenly have the realisation SOMEONE's in there!!! What an absolutely amazing thought.  Someone is there.  Unseen, faceless, but there.  

Last February I started following the blog of a newly married couple Andrew and Christina, whose baby girl went in a matter of moments from 'Your Baby' to 'The Baby' to 'The Fetus' for the simple reason that her ultrasound scan showed that baby Maria Isabella had Spina Bifida.  Baby Isabella, no longer someone. (follow this beautiful story here).  My own little girl lost her right to be called someone in an ultrasound room and I can attest to the profound and long-lasting pain this causes parents.  To deny  the recognition of humanity to a person, to make them anonymous, nameless so that we no longer owe them a duty of care.  And I can attest to just how much it means to the mother of a sick unborn child to hear the word 'baby' and to be asked her name.  'Anomaly' was that her name?  We were beginning to think it was.  

So how do we see 'Anomaly', born or otherwise?  My sister had a glimpse into the world of a disabled person a few years ago.  She was getting ready to go on a family outing  when she slipped on the last few stairs and badly sprained her ankle.  She was able to strap it up but the smaller children were very disappointed to miss the outing to the nearby forest park.  Her husband came up with the good idea of dropping by his workplace where there was a spare wheelchair and he could wheel my sister on the designated paths.  So they did that, and my sister had her eyes opened.  She couldn't but notice how people glanced away as she approached.  How they smiled at her husband but didn't make eye contact with her. How the assistant in the coffee shop asked him whether she took sugar in her coffee.  She was astonished!!  Obviously there's a certain element of people not knowing quite how to behave and not wanting to look rude but remember that that person is someone, say hello to them the same as we would anybody else we met on the path.

One day when our newborn little daughter was in the children's hospital a consultant came into our room doing his rounds with his entourage of medical students.  He spoke to them of the baby's 'anomalies' and their medical implications.  The group of students listened intently, scribbled notes and nodded profoundly...all except one...who looked at Louise and smiled.  About a half an hour later I heard a soft knock on the door of our little room.  It was the same medical student.  He apologised for interrupting and said he just came back to see the baby...and what was her name and could he lift her?  He looked at her so gently and with a look which said...'I see you'.  I hope he stuck it out because he is going to be a very good doctor.  He didn't just see a heart defect and this, and that, he saw someone.

When you see Christian Icon art you are looking at images which are full of symbolism.  You may notice that often the eyes are disproportionately large.  That is not a lack of knowledge of facial dimensions.  The eyes are portrayed as large to indicate contemplation.  Large enough to allow in real knowledge.  

Maybe our own eyes have become too small. We're not seeing enough. Maybe it's time to open them.

Looking at someone properly doesn't change them. It changes us.  It's something we should go to great lengths to teach our children.  How to look at people.  To see them in a way that maybe the world doesn't see them.  To see them with the eyes of God.  To see the value, the worth the unrepeatable treasure of each one, whatever their 'anomaly', whatever their faults.  Jesus looked at people with compassion, who are we to do anything other than that.  Because when we look we don't see.  When He looks...He sees

Oh...and just like Sweet Louise, Sweet Isabella is doing very well.  Please pray for both of them.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Housework Songs.

It's been a while since I've posted about keeping home and all the issues that go along with housework. I haven't forgotten about it though and I'll definitely be posting more about the great dignity and value of this work because it needs to be repeated often.  

I'm not embarrassed to say that I actually enjoy a lot of aspects of housework, cleaning and laundry but I didn't always.  So what's changed over the years? Perception.  Plain and simple.  If you think of any job as demeaning, drudgery or something to be endured, or better still, avoided, it will lose all attraction.  If on the other hand, you know the job has to be done so let's look at how we can make it fun or at least increase our motivation to get it done.  We do that to our children all the time, try to convince them that their chores are actually fun (although to date none of my children have fallen for that one!).  Why not do that for ourselves, we're no different in a lot of ways.

And what better way to get our cleaning mojo going than some great music.  I never do housework without music...never. Or maybe a Pod-cast I've been hoping to catch up on.  Everyone has their own taste in music, obviously, but here's a few of my favourites just to get you on track...

Oh, and by the way...DON'T choose music that reminds you of being stood up at the Debs or Prom, or of failing your exams, or your friend who emigrated all those years ago.  You're trying to get a spring in your step, not turn into an emotional wreck!!! (I learned that tip from my own experience).

So whip out that feather duster and those dancing shoes...
...there's cleaning to be done!!!

Ok...I know, I know...don't laugh but hey! Whatever works!!

(also, I haven't mentioned The Wiggles lately have I??)

There are lots more...that's just a few ideas. 

But's a challenge, have a listen to this last one get your best moves out 
and wail along with Kate...and see how much you can accomplish in the time:

Happy Cleaning.

What are your favourite housework anthems?