Archive for the 'toys' Category

Mulan and Jasmine Take Manhattan

After months of having gone mysteriously MIA in our house, Disney Princesses Mulan and Jasmine have been rediscovered and joyfully reunited with BFF’s Cinderella, Snow White, Ariel, Pocahontas, and the rest of Magnolia‘s crazy cast of tiny roving characters.

Cause for celebration — the girls are back in town!

Magnolia seemed to know intuitively that they needed to start putting themselves back out there again, so she let them accompany her to an exciting day of Pre-K this week. But they’d been inadvertently lost a long, long time…. They needed bigger adventures.

When they randomly turned up yesterday in my purse on my way into Manhattan, it was all, “Let’s party!”

Plenty of room on the subway when you’re only 3 and 1/2 inches tall….

Mulan and Jasmine

First, they took a moment to admire the pretty church on the corner of 5th Avenue and 12th Street…. Manhattan‘s so great, isn’t it, girl?

Mulan and Jasmine

Then they found a kindred spirit in a shop window….

Mulan and Jasmine

Next, they considered a drop-in spin class at Equinox….

Mulan and Jasmine

But they quickly came to their senses and made a beeline for lunch at Cafe Cluny instead. Two iced teas, please, and make it snappy!

Mulan and Jasmine

After lunch, they caught a movie at the Quad…. Aww, this takes me back, Jas — you?

Mulan and Jasmine

Later, they picked up some continuing ed catalogs at The New School…. You know you can’t just kick back with princess status, honey! Girlfriend’s got to EVOLVE.

Mulan and Jasmine

Then they strolled over to the Union Square Greenmarket to admire the spring bounty….

Mulan and Jasmine

Time for an afternoon treat sold by a cute farmer’s market boy! It’s been waaaaaayyy too long….

Mulan and Jasmine

Daaamn…. Back to Brooklyn so soon.

Mulan and Jasmine

These streets will make you feel brand new

Big lights will inspire you, let’s hear it for New York!

Love Her or Leave Her? Barbie

Barbie Princess Tea Party Barbie Doll

Princess Tea Party Barbie Doll, from Amazon, $12

Last week I was conflicted over leggings.… They’re so comfortable! But when I wear them I feel like my thighs deserve their own Brooklyn zip code.

This week, I’m thinking toys — specifically Ken’s significant other.

I loved playing with Barbies when I was a little girl — the endless clothes changes and hairstyles, the elaborate stories about the glamorous events my dolls were attending. And I don’t think it did any lasting psychological damage. (The comment about my thighs was for fun — I DO have big thighs, but I have a pretty realistic body image and no self-loathing issues. I’d like to be thinner, yes, but that’s about it.)

Even though my memories of Barbie are oh-so-fond, I’ve been reluctant to get Magnolia one — she’s seen them in stores, she’s watched some of the Barbie movies (which have a surprisingly “girl power” message), and she’s said more than once she wanted one. We debated it for Christmas, but decided she was too young. She’s already into princesses and sparkly things and stuff she deems “pretty” — I figured why further the girlie obsessions by bringing home Barbie?

Also, cliche, but I don’t want her growing up too fast — she’s only four! I’ve seen other kids her age and younger at the playground clutching a Barbie, but I secretly turned up my nose. Dolls are one thing, but why give a kid so young a woman in miniature to play with? I don’t want M. fast-forwarding to a fixation on mature looks and clothing, or the idea that she wants to grow up in a hurry because older = better.

And I certainly don’t want her to see Barbie as the physical ideal for a woman.

Thus my *previously* anti-Barbie stance — at least at this age.

Then we went to Texas, and M. unearthed some of my old Barbies from my childhood toy box. The girls looked like they’d suffered in the heat of a Texas attic for 30+ years, for sure — Superstar Barbie had some unattractive melted hair and Malibu Barbie was shy a leg — but M. was DELIGHTED to have found them. She was instantly engaged in play. Quiet, independent play. For longer than 10 minutes.

This is a draw for the mommies. Potent stuff.

Later in the trip, we headed to Wal-Mart to get each of the kids something new to play with during the long car ride to the great-grandparents’ house and the trip home on the plane. She’d been so happy with mine that we caved and got a Barbie for M., who could hardly believe her good fortune.

But we went with the tamest one we could find, the Princess Tea Party Barbie Doll above. No slutty clothes, no trashy glitter and glitz, no red carpet accessories — she just came with a tiny tea set.

M. has nicknamed her “Barba,” worries that she’ll get lonely or scared if left in a room without a human, and sleeps with her nightly. It doesn’t seem so awful, but I don’t know….

What do you think? Harmless toy or the root of all evil?

Barbie: Love her or leave her?

Meet Brigitte, Owner of Lulu’s Cuts & Toys

Brigitte Prat

Brigitte Prat, of Lulu's Cuts & Toys, Lulu's for Baby, and Lulu's Then & Now.

We’re big fans of Lulu’s Cuts & Toys; Jasper and Magnolia go there for haircuts (we book with Jennifer) and it’s our go-to spot for birthday presents, too. So I was psyched to see the news over on A Child Grows in Brooklyn that Lulu’s was expanding yet again – first there was Cuts & Toys, then recently Lulu’s for Baby, and coming soon: Lulu’s Then & Now, a chic but affordable re-sale shop for kids’ clothes.

I caught up with owner Brigitte Prat recently to ask how she juggles 3 businesses (!) and being mom to a 15-year-old. Here’s what she had to say.

So, you own Lulu’s Cuts & Toys and Lulu’s for Baby and you’re about to open Lulu’s Then & Now. How did you wind up mistress of a Park Slope mini-empire?

I moved to Brooklyn in 1998 when my daughter, Lulu, was 3. We used to travel to a place on the Upper West Side to get hair cuts – it was a real destination and activity for us. Lulu loved it so much she’d remind me, “Mom I need a haircut!” I loved living in Brooklyn, but was surprised that there was nothing like the place in Manhattan. I knew it was a great concept and that it would work in Park Slope.

But I was a single parent at the time and couldn’t just quit my job. I felt passionately about the idea, though, and talked it over with friends for three years. I finally decided to sever ties with my boss and go ahead with opening the store.

I’m a big fan of Willy Wonka, and wanted this place to feel like that. Magical. And customer service lacks everywhere, so that’s been my number one thing.

Lulu’s for Baby came about because I carried Maclaren’s toy strollers at Cuts & Toys and I was getting calls for their baby products. Park Slope is such an awesome neighborhood; I was surprised no one had opened a baby gear store. I didn’t have plans to do it but happened to see a young man showing the commercial space one day and I looked at it and it just snowballed from there.

We’re doing incredibly well. Having the strollers is great; it’s like selling cars. Parents have a million questions!

Running three shops and being a mom must be kind of insane – how do you balance the demands of work and home life?

I do work a lot; I have very little time at home. But I make time to have a day here and there with Lulu – as a teen she likes to go shopping, so we’ll do that. And we always have family dinners together.

I don’t have weekends free, but I live above Lulu’s Cuts and Toys, so I’m kind of home when she comes home. I may be downstairs, but I’m around and available for homework questions or whatever.

Having Lulu’s for Baby, though, has shown me I can NOT be at Toys all the time – it’s a spinning top now and will spin on its own.

Getting to that place is my next step for Baby.

When you buy for Lulu’s Toys and Lulu’s for Baby, what are you looking for? What’s top of mind when you are stocking the stores?

I’m a big visual person, so I look at things aesthetically. When I first opened, the merchandise was all European, but some of the pull toys are $40 or $50 and that’s just not reality.

I look hard at finding interesting toys that are affordable. I’ve stayed away from things that are too high end, even though some are beautiful.

OK, idea time: What are currently some best sellers at Lulu’s Toys? What are people loving?

Science kits do amazingly well, as do the mini-kick scooters in summer. We have jewelry boxes people love, and Playmobil and pretend play toys do well consistently.

What about at Lulu’s for Baby?

We’ve become the shower and baby gift place. Sophie the Giraffe is huge. So are OBall and Squish by Manhattan Toy. I’m still learning and getting help from parents coming into the store – I’ll order things they’re looking for.

Tell us about the new store, Lulu’s Then & Now. What made you decide to open it?

I have a partner, AnnMarie, and she helped me with Baby, too – she used to own City Cricket in the West Village. She called me about another idea and I ended up mentioning a re-sale shop. People are constantly asking me where to donate clothes. We met and decided to go for it.

A re-sale shop is a sign of the times; people are being smarter about their buys these days. And I totally believe in recycling. When she was younger, Lulu’s wardrobe was probably 80 percent recycled. You can make some great finds in a re-sale shop and nobody else will have it.

What can parents expect to find at Then & Now?

We’re getting some beautiful snow suits up to 18 months or 2 years that have never been used. Also Petit Bateau, Mini Boden, and some very cute Gap stuff. A few shoes, and some gorgeous wooden toys, too. The exciting thing is that it will constantly change and evolve.

The response has been huge; AnnMarie is a great visual merchandiser, so the shop will look boutique-y, but we’ll have cheap prices!

How can parents sell their used items to you?

Right now, since doors are not open yet, we’re asking people to call for an appointment: 718.398.Lulu

After we’re open, people can drop off, but preferably not on the weekends.

We’re offering 25 percent cash of retail value or 40 percent store credit.

When do you expect to be open?

By the end of August.

You work so hard, you must really be ready for vacation when it’s time – what’s your family vacation time like?

Lulu and I love L.A. and we have good friends there. But this year, we’re renting a house in the Catskills. I didn’t want to go somewhere where we’d be shopping or moving around a lot. I wanted to sit and relax, to be at the house playing board games or cooking together or in the pool. I just want to sit and have a nice glass of wine!

Any plans for Lulu’s to branch out into other Brooklyn neighborhoods?

Not really. What I offer is special, but to keep it that way you have to keep it small. Otherwise, it loses its charm.

I Love My Expedit!

It’s true!  We’ve gone Expedit mad in Brooklyn!

Jasper’s room was a disaster, still teeming with items from his toddler and baby stages, spilling out of baskets on the floor.  His closet was overflowing with toys and games, Legos and Lincoln Logs he never played with because they were squirreled away in boxes and bags.

Expedit to the rescue!

What I love about it: it LOOKS and IS solid and sturdy (for you safety-concerned people: it can be attached to a wall).  It wasn’t hard to put together (unlike some IKEA items).  You have the option of either displaying your collections, or hiding them.  We did a combo; some items on display, some hidden in soft bins.  AND it comes in a variety of sizes. We chose the mid-size model for Jasper’s room, and turned it on its side:

IKEA Expedit, $69.99

Now he has more toys available for play (it’s like Christmas all over again — but without the credit hangover), and everything is organized (and that makes the Virgo moms happy).

We liked Jasper’s Expedit so much, we scoured the “As Is” section at IKEA (oh yes, you must know about this!) for a one row unit for our study.  Now, we can stow all of the downstairs puzzles, games, outdoor toys, etc. out of the way, while still providing a place to sit and put on shoes (we turned this one on its side, too).

IKEA expedit, $59.99

Further investigation shows me that people are using their Expedits for all sorts of storage needs.  Check out the Flickr Expedit group for inspiration (love the sewing room someone put together — so colorful and fun it makes me want to transform our guest bedroom)!

Review: Best Christmas Gifts for Kids

Now that the boxes and paper have been thrown away, I thought it would be appropriate to see how the gifts we gave our kids are measuring up. And by “measure up” I mean how much time the kids have spent playing with them.  Christmas break was two weeks, and we all needed our diversions (the moms got hers and hers iPhones, which were PLENTY diverting).

Top Gifts of Christmas 2009:

1) Bikes! This was a bike Christmas for us.  My daughter has been coveting her brother’s bike all summer, deeply annoyed that she cannot go as fast as he can on his bike when she is on her little scooter.  So we started shopping for a 16 incher.  For girls, they’re pretty much all pink at the affordable level (between $60-$90).  You can get more color variety at the $200 level.  It seemed crazy to spend that much on a transitional bike, so we went for the craziest pink princess bike you ever saw.

Disney Princess Bike, $69 on

She loved it.  Yes, other parents give us weird looks because this one is so over the top, but we figured, if you’re going pink, might as well go all out.  It’s made by Huffy and so far is great.  If it hadn’t snowed or been frigid outside most of the holiday, she would have been riding this thing everyday.

We hadn’t planned on getting our son a bike, but the Greek chorus that are the grandparents (“doesn’t she have a hat?”, “that coat is too small” etc) decided that his beloved Magna “Major Damage” bike had become too small for him.  A second opinion from a bike shop confirmed this was the case.  So for him, it was a second hand, Raleigh MXR 20″ bike (like this, but an older model and in black).  Perfect, as it had both a coaster break and hand break.

2) Castles. Castle mania reigned over the holidays.  And so it can be written that we highly recommend both the Melissa & Doug Folding Princess Castle and the Playmobil Knight’s Take Along Castle.

Will the medieval knights lay siege to the princess castle (populated entirely by Disney princess figurines)?  Or will they lay down their swords and seek the hands of the fair Techicolor maidens?  Stay tuned.

Melissa & Doug folding castle, $65

3) Legos. Jasper graduated to real Legos this year.  He’s a tinkerer, and these are perfect for his tinkering little hands. After years of Duplos, I was shocked at how tiny these things are.  The downside of real Legos: I foresee many becoming lost in the cracks of our house. And 405 barely fill the case (which means there’s plenty of room for MORE…and more tiny parts around the house).  But he does love them, and they are fun for me, too.

405 piece lego set in tub, $30 on

4. Books! Books played a big part in the holiday show.  Some hits of the season: the Magic Treehouse chapter-book series (books 5-8) for Jasper, and The Silver Slippers for the ballet-focused Magnolia (complete with its message on determination and practice, but with a real silver slipper necklace to soften things up).

5. Crafts! Last year it was all about Play-doh. This year we are loving a terrific Mosaic art kit (simple, fun, and hours of playtime).

My First Mosaic: Pets kit, $10-$15 on

Also a hit with the three-year old brain was the magic pen coloring book.  Truth in advertising: this thing IS kind of magic;  Magnolia uses the “magic pen” to make the colors appear in the picture that is on the page (takes all the guess work out of drawing in the lines). Another bonus: these books are cheap-o. This is good because it doesn’t take long to get through them.

Oh, the toys still to be played with!  And with the temperature staying in the teens, we need plenty of things to keep us busy.

There’s still all the dress up clothes (princess, boas — everyone needs at least two — a cowboy outfit).  The Thomas the Tank Engine roundhouse, a fixture on Christmas lists for years.  Shock of actually owning it has so far gotten in the way of play beyond setting it up and making it “snowed in.”  The Lincoln Logs and the “April,” i.e. the “apron” filled with crayons.  Both have had some play but are now hibernating until their time comes again.

And next year, I’m vowing not to let the cool science calendar for kids get away again, selling out before I could buy it.

I Knew the Island of Sodor Was in Trouble….

Up ahead, there was confusion and delay.

Up ahead, there was confusion and delay.

Okay, Amalah makes me laugh until I cry when she does one of her Thomas the Tank Engine things. I don’t know how she comes up with this stuff, but her take on the Island of Sodor, all the gear — track, trains, tables, bridges, turntables etc etc etc — and the crraaazzzyyy love for that cheeky blue engine that little boys seem to feel is hilarious. But the best part is the night-before-Christmas, putting-the-toys-together, damn I’m frustrated, where’s my glass of wine, oh just forget it madness– those stressful earmarks of engineering a good island–that Amalah gets just right (complete with the grown -up comments).

If Thomas is in any way a part of your home, you have got to read her recent post. After I finished laughing until I was crying, I took a look at Jasper’s train table. Clearly I’ve missed a few shocking developments.

Big Bird after another bender in Knapford

Big Bird after another bender in Knapford

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