Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Green Toys: Twinzy Toys

Almost 100 years ago, Battle Creek twin sisters Blanche and Bernice Squier bet their father that they could pay for their college education at UC-Berkeley, and thus Twinzy Toys was born.  The sisters hand-stitched the dolls and they became such a success, they ended up returning to Battle Creek to produce Twinzy Toys in their father's factory.  These female entrepreneurs had created a thriving business at a time when women didn't even have the right to vote. The toys were a hit for decades until the sisters' passing.



In the late 1990s, relatives of the twins found an old box with their toy molds and sketches and dropped them off to Heritage Battle Creek, where the toys remained a part of history until recently, when my friend Ken Faris, made a licensing agreement with HBC to produce Twinzy Toys, reviving the original designs but going green for the modern world.

The new Twinzy Toys are made with an organic cotton hemp blend, stuffed with raw, organic cotton and sewn with organic thread by Battle Creek students interested in careers in fashion design.
The dolls are black and white.  You can leave them as they are or you can decorate them and share your or your child's creation at Twinzy Toys' website.

The dolls can be purchased at Twinzy Toys' Etsy site.  The current designs available are Buddy the Elf, pictured here, Hy Jack the Fox Terrier, Miss Mary, Cowboy and Rabbit.
Front view of Buddy the Elf

Back view of Buddy the Elf

Read more about Twinzy Toys and their plans for the future here.

Check back every Monday and Thursday for new posts, including more info on green toys and products, DIY toys, (including more Indian playfood like masala dosa, another kind of samosa, and idli sambar), and more chalkboard crafts featuring Lullaby Paints.  
And if you like what you see here, check out my Amazon Author page for my picture books and YA novel, and my blog posts on The Huffington Post. 
Follow me on Twitter @soups25

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Free Book: Nishi Goes to India


The e-book version of my new book, Nishi Goes to India, is free today through Wednesday, December 17th!  The book is also available in paperback but, unfortunately, I can't give that away for free.  So if you want the free version, be sure to toggle between the Kindle and Paperback buttons to get what you want.

If you don't have a Kindle, you can still read the e-book with the free Kindle app on your tablet, computer or phone.  Click here for more information.

If you like what you read and have a few seconds to spare, I'd really appreciate your reviews on Amazon.  And if you have enjoyed any of my previous books when they were free, like The Booger Fairy, The Chosen One, or my 9 Indian language books for kids in Marathi, Hindi and Gujarati, (also available in 3-in-1 combo books for each language), I'd be grateful for reviews for those too!  You can see all my books here on my Amazon Author Page.  Most are available both as e-books and in paperback.
Nishi Goes to India was a fun project to work on.  As a first generation Indian-American child, going to India was always a time of great excitement and nervousness, as I was always self-conscious about speaking Marathi in front of my relatives.  I thought the feelings of being so similar yet so different from your relatives would be even stronger in the children of first generation Indian-Americans, and thus the idea for the book was born.

In Nishi Goes to India, Nishi is thrilled to go to India to meet her grandmother and the rest of her family.  But when she attempts to speak Hindi to her grandma, her cousins laugh at her.  Embarrassed, Nishi decides to only speak in English, even though her grandmother isn't well-versed in it, missing out on an opportunity to get to know her grandma better.  But a kind gesture from Nishi's grandmother changes things, and Nishi and her nani are able to forge a common bond despite the language barrier. 

The illustrations are done in watercolor.  I wanted to make sure to depict various Indian skin tones in the book, since I have found several children's books on India to have some skin-tone bias towards fairer skin types, and shadeism is not something I want my children to ever learn.  And if you have read my blog posts on The Huffington Post, like the one on the Lego Gender Divide or my son wearing pink, you know that I don't like genders to be defined by colors, so I made sure Nishi was never in pink and that her father wore a lot of pink.  There is nothing wrong with girls wearing pink, of course, but I wanted her to not just be in the more traditionally "girly" colors.  Here are some of the illustrations from the book:






Hope you enjoy the book!

Check back every Monday and Thursday for new posts, including more info on green toys and products, DIY toys, (including more Indian playfood like masala dosa, another kind of samosa, and idli sambar), and more chalkboard crafts featuring Lullaby Paints.  
And if you like what you see here, check out my Amazon Author page for my picture books and YA novel, and my blog posts on The Huffington Post. 
Follow me on Twitter @soups25

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

PVC-Free, Phthalate-Free Fabric Shower Liners


Fabric Shower Liner on the left

A great way to avoid exposing yourself to PVC, a material laden with phthalates, is to get a fabric shower liner.  The problem with PVC shower curtains is that they off-gas for a long time so every time you shower you are smelling the phthalates and absorbing them.  You can find great fabric shower curtains at Target here.  They are also available at stores like Bed Bath and Beyond.

Apartment Therapy has more alternatives to PVC shower liners too.

Here's my earlier post on other ways to decrease your exposure to phthalates.

And check out the links at the bottom of my Toxin Toxout review to find out how to decrease your exposure to PFOAs, PBDEs, Triclosan, BPA, Herbicides, Pesticides, Fungicides and other toxins.

Check back every Monday and Thursday for new posts, including more info on green toys and products, DIY toys, and more chalkboard crafts featuring Lullaby Paints.  
And if you like what you see here, check out my Amazon Author page for my picture books and YA novel, and my blog posts on The Huffington Post. 
Follow me on Twitter @soups25

Sunday, December 7, 2014

DIY Farm Playmat With Storage Pocket

I made a farm playmat out of the other half of the t-shirt I used earlier to make my dinosaur playmat.
PlanToys Farm Animals and an Anamalz Ram and Pig enjoying the farm themed playmat.

It was an easy way to upcycle an old t-shirt that was too damaged to donate.  Here is how you can make one too.

1.) Cut the sleeves off an old t-shirt.

2.) Cut the armpits out of the shirt and cut down the length of the two sides so you have two pieces like this:


(One of these became my dinosaur playmat.  The other became the farm playmat).  
3.) Sew the unfinished edges of the shirt by folding over a tiny bit of the material on each side and then sewing over it.

4.) I made a rooster, hen and chick out of felt.  
Cut out two identical pieces for each of their bodies and sew the pairs together using a blanket stitch or a whip stitch.  Use a fabric marker to draw on eyes.


5.) Sew one sleeve to the back of the playmat.  You just need to sew the sides down.  Unlike the dinosaur playmat, because my rooster, hen and chick were such tiny wool felt animals, I cut a strip off the sleeve and sewed it down just above my pocket, to create a flap so it would be a little harder to lose the animals.

6.) Cut out the shapes for the farm landscape out of felt and sew them down.  I just used a simple running stitch.  My son really enjoys pretend-feeding his toy animals so for my farm mat I focused on food, making an apple tree, orange tree, lemon tree, pumpkin patch, corn, wheat, a pond to drink from, and bushes with grapes, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries.  If you don't want to sew anything and don't have a child who could choke on the small pieces of felt, you could cut out the pieces and just lay them flat on the shirt as well and store everything in a larger pocket on the back.

We have a lot of fun with this playmat and it was a good way to put an old t-shirt to use.

Check back every Monday and Thursday for new posts, including more info on green toys and products, DIY toys, and more chalkboard crafts featuring Lullaby Paints.  
And if you like what you see here, check out my Amazon Author page for my picture books and YA novel, and my blog posts on The Huffington Post. 
Follow me on Twitter @soups25


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Green Toys: Plan Toys Play Kitchen

I have found the best deals on these large scale PlanToys kitchen pieces to be on Zulily.  They come on sale a couple times a year there, so make sure you search for the brand on their site, and click the red heart next to it so the button says "notify me," to get an email the night before the sale.  Sometimes these items can sell out fast on Zulily so when I was initially in the market for a play kitchen I made sure to check it out right when the sale started at 9 a.m. EST.  

Pictured above are the PlanToys dishwasher and their pink stove mentioned in my earlier post on boys wearing pink.  The stove is a lot of fun on its own but I also purchased the PlanToys dishwasher because with a little imagination it can double as an oven too, and I was advised by a friend with older children that a sink and faucet get a lot of use in a play kitchen.  I'm glad we listened to her because my son and his friends really enjoy both pieces in this kitchen.

We adore the food and beverage set, (consisting of ketchup, juice, milk, jam, honey and bottled water, which we pretend is oil instead), but aren't crazy about the tea set.  Both sets were purchased on Amazon but the tea set was a little pricey and several of the pieces, like the sugar cubes, wooden tea bags and stirring spoons are way too tiny for younger children to play with.  The box does say ages 3 and up but if you have a younger sibling in the house, you might want to keep the smaller items boxed up until everyone is old enough to safely play with them.  (I ended up sewing cloth teabags to be used with this set instead, pictured here).

There is a PlanWood alternative to the PlanToys wooden tea set that is cheaper and made of the same yellow and green dyed planwood seen in the dishes below.  It wasn't out when I first bought my children's tea set but I wish I had purchased it instead.

I found the PlanWood tableware to be a good deal as well, when I purchased it last year.  The green and yellow naturally dyed set comes with two bowls, two cups, two plates, two spoons, two knives and two forks.  I purchased the set from yoyo.com during a PlanToys sale.  They generally have a big sale on PlanToys a few times a year, including the weekend of Black Friday.

Our kids spend hours a day being entertained by this play kitchen and its accessories so we are happy with our purchases.
For easy DIY playfood from felt, see my tutorials below:


Check back every Monday and Thursday for new posts.  Coming up in the next few weeks: more DIY toys, and info on green toys and green products, including more chalkboard crafts with Lullaby Paints.
And if you like what you see here, check out my Amazon Author page for my picture books and YA novel, and my blog posts on The Huffington Post. 
Follow me on Twitter @soups25


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Felt Pine Tree Forest With Snow-Capped Trees


I decided to make a forest of pine trees for my handmade nesting Woodland Village.  This was a simple project that just involved cutting semi circles out of felt, bending them into a conical shape, and then sewing the ends together.




I cut smaller, wavy semi-circles out of white felt that can be stacked on the pine trees as snow or that can rest on the ground by themselves as white trees.



It took just a couple minutes to make and made the woodland village come together nicely. 

Check back every Monday and Thursday for new posts.  Coming up in the next few weeks: more DIY toys, (including the felt mountain pictured between the trees above, the multicolored trees seen in the very first picture of this post, and the starry night backdrop also seen there), info on green toys and products and more chalkboard paint projects featuring Lullaby Paints.

And if you like what you see here, check out my Amazon Author page for my picture books and YA novel, and my blog posts on The Huffington Post. 
Follow me on Twitter @soups25


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

November Felt Board


A few months ago I made a low-cost felt board out of an old Seventh Generation diaper box.



Since then, we have been fun using our felt board to learn about animals, seasons, plants and much more.  For November I decided to go with the theme of gratitude.  Since my son is just 2.5, I don't know how much of this he gets, but we have always tried to teach him to be thankful for what he has.  
Before every meal, we have him say, "Thank you cows for the milk.  Thank you calves for the milk.  And thank you farmers for the grains, lentils, vegetables and fruit."  It's a small thing but it is a good reminder that food doesn't just show up on your plate and that people toiled in order for you to eat and calves lost their lives and cows gave you the milk meant for their own babies.  I find it to be a good reminder for myself as well.

So for November, I just cut out hearts and numbered them 1-30 for each day in November.  Every morning when we go to the felt board, my son says what he is grateful for and puts the heart up.  Highlights include "cooking," "Trader Joe's," and "the felt board."



He may be a little young for this but he still enjoys doing it and hopefully with each November it will have more and more meaning for him and my baby.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Check back every Monday and Thursday for new posts.  Coming up in the next few weeks: more DIY toys,info on green toys and products and more chalkboard paint projects featuring Lullaby Paints.

And if you like what you see here, check out my Amazon Author page for my picture books and YA novel, and my blog posts on The Huffington Post. 
Follow me on Twitter @soups25