The Mouse

Our kitten, panther, who recently turned one year old has a favorite mouse toy. It used to be Meeko’s favorite mouse toy, but when Panther arrived, one of the first things she did was tear the feather tail off it, and ever since he has ignored the thing and it has been hers.

Panther’s mice toys. Photo by Kara Hartz

It reminds me of how attached a child gets to a favorite object. She has all but destroyed the mouse. Perhaps if I hadn’t told you it was a mouse, would you have been able to tell? The feather tail is gone, as I already mentioned, and the seams have been ripped open, and most of the stuffing is gone. The threads embrodering the face are a mess, or missing is places. Yet she still loves it.

Sometimes she knocks it under a piece of furniture, or behind something, or whatever, and can’t get to it. Later, sometimes weeks I believe, we will come across it and give it back to her, and the sheer delight on her little kitty face is amazing. She plays with extra joy when she gets it back. This isn’t to say she will never play with any other toy, but there is no doubt what her favorite is.

Also, like a child though, she will accept no substitutes to her lovey. When the stuffing kept coming out I worried about the mouse. I happened to be at the pet store buying her food and thought I’d get her a new one. I bought the pink mouse also in the photo. They didn’t have anything exactly like her older mouse, but this was similar in size and fabric to the original, so I thought she’d enjoy it. I don’t think I’ve personally seen her ever play with the pink mouse even once.

Very briefly I considered repairing the favorite mouse by re-stuffing it, and resewing its seams, but after the rejection of the new mouse, I’m afraid she would be insulted at my attempts. If she loves it the way it is, I will not be interfering


How I Threw Out Half My Kid’s Toys, And They Thanked Me For It

I’m still a little in shock at how this played out.

Let me begin by saying that I have been concerned for some time about the volume of crap in my kid’s room. I tried talking them into donating some of the toys they don’t play with to kids who don’t have as much. No. Not interested. Then my oldest was on a big kick about earning money, so we had a great talk about selling some of her older stuff at a garage sale. She was only willing to part with one pink fuzzy dice, and strongly felt that $14 was a reasonable asking price for it. So, umm. . . that didn’t go well.

I despaired that one day their belongings would crush them as they slept. Almost literally. There were so many stuffed animals on the top bunk that I didn’t see how my daughter could get in there to go to sleep. “Don’t worry,” she assured me, and burrowed into the pile, her face eventually popping out like in that scene from E.T.

I hadn’t given up, but I was at a loss of how to get them to give up some of these old toys that they hadn’t played with in months, to years. If I pointed out that they had never actually played with a particular item, they would tell me how much they loved it. They remembered who had given it to them, and on what occasion. They seemed to have photographic memories suddenly.

Yet, they almost never wanted to play in their room. They didn’t have a lot of play space, for one. Also, I can only imagine how hard it must have been to find anything particular they may have wanted to play with. The little toy house, for example, was so full from being used as a storage spot, it would have taken awhile to clear out to be able to be used for an actual play session. Something had to give.

I am reading a book right now called “Simplicity Parenting“. It gave me the courage to do what I was too afraid to do on my own. So when the kids were recently having a sleep over with Grandma, my husband and I raided their room. We filled up garbage bags, and give-away boxes, and a pile of baby things for their soon-to-be new cousin, and several large boxes to go into storage. Storage because some things we just weren’t sure how attached they really were to them, but the room was still too full. If we’d made a horrible blunder and taken something that would break their tender little hearts, we wanted to be able to undo it.

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I was so full of guilt. So, so full. When they came home, they would hate me. They would never want another sleep over ever again. They would cry. But I would be strong. They needed some space to play. They needed to be able to see and get to their toys, not have mountains of mysterious piles. I was so afraid of their reaction. As an example of what we removed, the basket in the picture was their bat-tub toys. Before, it was brimming full. So overfilled that you had to pick it up carefully or toys would topple off the heap. Now it’s a little less than half full. Their room was similar in percentages. We took that much away.

One thing I did, to hopefully soften the blow, was get a few new things. Simple things. The book recommended this. We had strongly targeted all those movie and TV character toys in “The Great Purge” as I have come to think of it. The book talked about the virtues of more simple playthings that left more up to the imagination. So I got a small tub of pop-beads and I filled one of their now empty bins with fabric pieces and clothes pins to make forts or whatever. I also got them each a new book and a little bag of cookies (the guilt made me do that – they can’t hate me if I give them cookies, right?)

So the next day we were out until evening. I was so worried about the fallout that was coming when we got home; I was upset and distracted a lot of the day. They didn’t go up to their room right away. I watched them from the corner of my eye. Bracing myself for when they might head for the stairs.

At last it was time for pajamas and they went up to their room. I held my breath. And. . .

They didn’t notice.

The book said they wouldn’t, but I hadn’t believed it. They didn’t know my kids.

Actually, that’s not quite true. They noticed the new things. They saw the beads right away. Then the fabric. They were delighted and began building right then. They gave me hugs. They saw the books on their pillows (the pillows that were now uncovered and could be seen) More hugs for me. Then they looked at their storage bins. “Okay, here it comes,” I thought, “They’ll see now everything that’s missing.”

No. They saw toys they hadn’t seen in forever. They were even more thrilled. “Hey! Here’s my airplane! Thanks Mama for finding it!” They ran around the room, noticing all the things that had been buried and invisible before. They thanked their father and me over and over again for organizing their room. They saw books on their shelves that they’d been looking for but couldn’t find. Another hug.

Why didn’t I do this before?

Because it felt mean. But it wasn’t. They were overwhelmed. There was just too much there. They are so beloved by so many people who love to give them things, it had smothered them. I am sure eventually – probably tomorrow – they will notice something is missing. Then I’ll tell them about the storage. Maybe we’ll rotate some storage items back and some of what they have now away from time to time. Maybe we won’t. But one thing is sure – my room is next and I only hope I can be as brutal with my own belonging, because I’m feeling a little smothered too.


The Twelve Days of Crochet

With a little less than 2 weeks until Christmas, I got it into my head to make some Amigurumi dolls for my kids. By some, I mean 4. I don’t know why I thought this was a good idea, or that I’d be able to do it in the time I had available (which was late at night so they didn’t see me working). But I did. Maybe it was to fight some of the icky feeling I get when I spend too much time in malls and superstores. Maybe it was left over NaNoWriMo, I-can-do-anything feelings, Maybe it was just getting home from the hospital with my kiddo that had her appendix out and feeling all maternal and protective. Making cute things from yarn helps with those types of feeling, you know.

So, anyway, I didn’t finish in time. In fact, I’m still not finished, but the last one is almost done. For my oldest, I made a Pokemon with a poke ball. For the younger kiddo, I wanted a Scooby Doo, but could only find a knitting pattern, so I went with Little Red Riding Hood and wolf instead.

For the Mew Pokemon and poke ball amigurumi, I found both patterns at the WolfDreamer: Off the Hook blog. She has a ton of free Pokemon amigurumi patterns as well as some Mario Brothers ones and other cute characters. She also has a WolfDreamer Zibbet shop.

The wolf I found at the Lion Yarn website. They have some free patterns too, but you have to sign up for a free account to get access to them. Yes, I know he doesn’t look exactly like a wolf. Something went wrong with the ears I think. So far, most people think he’s an aardvark or a mouse. Some see him as a sort of generic quadruped and one could argue convincingly that he is any number of little creatures. Even so, I still think he’s cute, darn it! And I believe when he is standing next to a Little red Riding Hood doll, it will be clear he is a wolf. It’s all about the context.

I broke down a bought a pattern for Little Red Riding Hood, since the free ones I found weren’t quite what I was looking for. That’s the one I don’t have finished yet, although she is coming along nicely and I’ll post my finished doll here when I get done. (Which, if my wrist holds out will be very soon.) To see what she will hopefully look like, the pattern is here.

Hope everyone had a great holiday, and is ready for 2011 to get here.

Go make something!


A pocket quilt

This is a project that I’d wanted to make for a long time and never seemed to get around to. I decided to make it a Christmas gift to force myself into a deadline. Luckily the kiddo loves it.

For awhile we were spending every morning searching for some tiny lost plastic animal. I’m not a morning person, so moving furniture is not what I’m hoping to do as soon as I roll out of bed. So I made the rule that only stuffed animals are allowed in bed at night. Then we started a ritual of carefully lining the “hard critters” as they are affectionately called up on the dresser at bedtime where they could be seen from bed.

The pocket quilt has saved the day!

Now it hags next to the bed. Each critter gets happily tucked into their own pocket at bedtime, and they are still there in the morning. No searching through blankets. No dragging the bed far enough from the wall to get an arm down there. Yea!

Plus, it’s cute – if I do say so myself. Decoration and storage all in one. Maybe I need one for my room now. . .

It’s super simple. I did it without a pattern, but I could probably write instructions up if anyone is interested. I just figured out how big I wanted it to be and worked backward from there for the size of each block and pocket. I know I’ve seen more elaborate versions out there too.


Possibly Closing Karabu’s Etsy Shop in the New Year

Due to the new regulations in the Consumer Protection Safety Improvement Act, there is the very high likelihood that I will be closing down my Etsy shop early next year.

I have two small children of my own, and was just as outraged as the rest of the country at the ridiculous number of toy recalls we’ve seen over the past year. I’ve had to throw away recalled Diego toys in the night to avoid tears. I’m very pro-safe toys.

The problem is that in terms of this new law, it seems that using lead free supplies isn’t good enough. All toys must be tested after they are made. Testing costs $75 per component (I wrote to a certified lab to ask). One of my I-spy security blankets has 27 components (26 different fabrics plus thread). Total = $2,025.00 for testing. Plus the tested item is destroyed. That’s fine when you have a run of thousands. I make runs of one.

Many small, and ever mid-sized children’s product companies are going to be in trouble early next year. There are a lot of folks trying to get the details changed so that smaller manufactures have a hope of being able to comply, but the law is already passes, and this process is slow. I saw one person comment that maybe the handcrafters of the country should ask for a bailout to afford testing costs. I got the giggles from that.

I’ve read the 63 page law and it is very difficult to understand. My local Small Business Development Center couldn’t answer my questions via e-mail but recommended my coming in for individual counseling with their fabric product specialist. I’m going to try to work that meeting into my schedule somehow just so I can at least fee more informed.

There is a lot of folks trying to get the word out and get people to write to their representatives about altering this law. If you want more information see this article on Etsy:

Thanks all.


Personalizing and Customizing

For many months in my Etsy shop, I had a note in my announcement section that I was happy to take custom orders. After one or two custom I spy blanket requests I realised that making custom orders involved a lot more work, and frequently involved buying additional supplies, like special fabric. The problem was that I felt uncomfortable asking for more money than my regular listings were priced at.

The solution I came up with was to create a special listing for a custom I-spy blanket that took into consideration the extra time and money I had to invest. Another problem, that I hadn’t thought about that creating this special listing created for me was that about the timing of payment.

Because I’m a wimp about asking for money, I’d usually spend all the time corresponding with my clients about their request, gathering sample fabrics, and even making the item before asking for payment. I’d create a listing for them when the item was done. Luckily, all my buyers are wonderful and honest people, but I’m sure there was the potential for me to be left with an item that was to personalized to resell.

Now, I’ll still work out the details of an order with someone, but once we’re ready to start actually cutting and sewing, I can ask for them to purchase the listing from my shop. Once payment clears, I start sewing. Even timid little me can handle asking that, and so far every single client has paid for their listing the same day I asked.

Soon after making the custom I spy blanket listing, I also made a listing for a custom Soft fabric book. I’ll be creating a custom soft jingle block listing soon too.

The very best things that creating special listing for my custom work has done for me is that I now get far more custom orders than I used to. I think people don’t always like to ask questions. Maybe they don’t want to take the time, maybe they are worried that the answer will be no, maybe they feel silly bothering someone else, I don’t know what all the reasons are. I just know that now that I have custom listings, I am almost always working on a custom order.

The listing makes it easy for buyers. It tells them they type of information I need to start. It lets them know what I’ll be doing for them and how long it will take me. It gives them all the information they need to decide to buy. It also gives them permission to ask for exactly what they want without feeling pushy or picky. Everyone wins!


My 15 Minutes

Parents Magazine (yes THE Parents magazine) did a little blurb on Etsy, and included my Soft Fabric Animal book.
Excuse me for a moment while I do a happy dance.


Yep – I’m kinda excited.
The other items are cool too. I actually just bought some toys from Stumppondtoy for my kids. His shop has been on my favorite list for awhile now.


Not Made in China

So I was at Target over the weekend looking for a hard baby toy that my daughter could chew on. My first born wasn’t much of a chewer, even when she was teething, but the new baby’s reason for being seems to be to get everything possible into her mouth. Like so many, I’m hesitant to buy something from China and learn next week that it isn’t safe, so I read the packaging for all the baby chew toys they had. Every single one was made in China. Every single one.

Now I’m on a mission. For some reason, the fact that I couldn’t find something not made in China has made it that much more important to me to do so. I’m happy to say that I have success finding some great toys made in America and Europe, and I want to share.

Now obviously – I make baby and kid toys, and I’m in America. My baby loves her blocks and her I-spy security blanket – she studies it and chomps away at it. I’m a big fan of simple, stimulating, home-made toys, but I can’t make everything I want. So this is where the search comes in.

1. Etsy.com
This is always the first place I shop. I’m a part of the Etsykids street team, and if you just enter “Etsykids” into the search box you’ll find a ton of great handmade kids stuff. So if you’re looking for blocks, you can enter “blocks etyskids”. This will help a lot because of the way the Etsy search function works, if you were to enter ‘blocks’ by itself, you end up with a lot of ‘block prints’ and other non-kid items. Using the Etsykids search will make sure you only get kid related results. There is one, non-etsykids shop I want to mention because of his cool toys: Stump Pond Woodworks

2. I found this cool list of Websites that sell mass-produced baby toys that are not made in China, if that’s what you’re looking for:
80% of toys are made in China, but not these!

I’m sure there are more resources out there – feel free to share any you’ve found in the comments section. Together we can avoid buying from China.

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