Friday, November 25, 2011

The Beauty of Handmade and Dreams Come True!!

I want to take a moment to talk about our new and growing small business... It has always been our dream to work from home, doing something that nicely accompanies, or is a direct result of our lifestyle. We didn't want our pretty farmstead to be thrown to the wayside to make room for a factory line or anything. Whatever it was, our occupation had to conform to our lifestyle, not the other way around.

When our family made the switch to handmade toys for birthdays and holidays, I was around 10. I remember being ecstatic about my new position. See, as an older kid in the family, that made me an elf! <]:) I always loved giving handmade gifts from the time I was little, but they usually disappeared under the wrappings of the store gifts pretty quickly. The idea of having everyone giving handmade meant a whole new experience leading up to Christmas! We were no longer the bored, impatiently waiting kids--we were the crazy, crafty, secretive, winking little elves! No Santa stopping by our house--it was ALL up to us. This put a whole new spin on the holidays!

For my tenth birthday, Dad made me a rustic horse using little trees from our woods. It had moveable legs, a pokey mane and tail and a cute face. Even though Dad was embarrassed, thought he did a bad job on it and didn't even want to give it to me, that was the best toy I'd ever gotten. The infatuation of the store presents died down after a few days, but I'd hold that horse every time I saw it on the shelf. When my little hands wrapped around the horse's middle, I would imagine Dad's hands on it as he built it. Built it for ME.

From then on, I was completely convinced that handmade toys are the most special kind of gift. Not that purchased gifts aren't bought with love and consideration and often, lots of money (my own dear father has a piece of his history spent walking the aisles selecting our gifts with great picky-ness). There's just something about handmade, when the creator's fingerprints are left on the gift, that makes it incredibly special.

So, my handmade passion is something that I think I've always carried with me. But, a new passion that is rapidly growing in me, is my adoration of all things NATURAL. I immediately noticed a huge difference when I went natural in my fiber crafts (knitting). Of course, I needed to learn on the acrylic, but those acrylic/poly filled dollies never got as readily adopted into little arms like my new wool ones already have been.

Contrary to popular belief, the wool is actually way softer than the acrylic! I've then been stuffing with our own wool, so the sheep have become Donna's friends now that she identifies them as the animals that give that wonderful life, warmth and squishiness to her toys. These toys are the ones she reaches for as soon as she wakes up sleepy and needing something to snuggle, or at bedtime when she's feeling drowsy and wants the warmth that wool offers after absorbing her body heat.

The other thing I've been loving is the 'freshness' in these dollhouses Stephen has been making.

I watched from the window as he hauled some freshly cut young trees out of ravine. When he brought in the finished (beautiful!!) dollhouses, their bark was cool and still damp with the life that had been so recently in it.

Yesterday, the girls were playing with our first log cabin dollhouse that Dad made for Theresa over ten years ago. It's still sturdy and oh so beautiful! The most coveted toy amongst the little girls. :)

Imagine chubby little hands gripping these real, natural materials as opposed to cheap 'made in China' pieces of plastic. Something you don't need to worry about them putting in their mouths. Something real, that God created naturally in nature, as opposed to something man made in a toxic factory. There just is no comparison! I want all my future babies to have exclusively natural toys! :)

So, I just wanted to share something (one of many!) that I am thankful for this holiday season; and that is that our family shops are finally experiencing some sales! I am so happy! It's a huge dream come true for me! :) I am totally passionate and proud of each and every toy in my Toy Barn and I feel so good having the opportunity to support ourselves by offering something that I feel so good about offering to children and babies!

In the shop lately...

Andrew is finishing up a custom order for a very large (2ft tall) Nativity Creche stable. Just needs us girls to stain it now.

Stephen just finished turning out a chess set on the lathe for a customer who wanted just the pieces. Right now half the set is in the wood cook stove to darken.

Michael has been selling a lot of his spin tops and has been getting efficient at turning them out on the lathe.

His Lord of the Rings Aragorn daggers have also been receiving a lot of attention.

Enough that he and the boys are now (very willingly ;) into making wooden LOTR toy weapon replicas!

We also have Legolas' throwing knifes just waiting on me to wood burn and finish, and lots more weaponry in the draft and planning stages! Johnny has been having as much fun with those as Donna has had with all our pony making. :)

Speaking of which... I've sold four ponies now, and I have been ecstatically happy about each sale! I really feel good about selling those for children to play with. I remember how I felt about my own handmade horse and I pour love for the recipient into each pony that comes off my needles. :)

If you've ever read our beginnings page, I could have added a part right after Dad received his pink slip where I remember him telling Mom that he thought he could be a pretty good toy maker, as a profession. That was the first I'd ever considered making a living building toys. Of course, if you can imagine, as a child I thought that was the most fantastic idea in the world!

Well, a few days ago, Dad was loading the van with boxes of our handmade toys to take to the post office and as he lumbered through the living room carrying a big box containing one of Stephen's log cabin dollhouses, he suddenly gave a jolly "ho-ho-ho" and "call me Santa Claus!" I looked up surprised and suddenly remembered him saying he wanted to be a toy maker all those years ago! Wow.

Yes, this year of 2011 has certainly brought with it a dream come true for our whole family! Last night, as I set our shops up for this year's Black Friday through Cyber Monday sale, I thought of that and decided to use "HOHOHO11" as our coupon codes. (And, as horribly tacky as it sounds, I have to add that that coupon will get you a fun 10% off in both our shops!! :) I know 10% doesn't compare very well with all the sales happening out there, but then, the meticulously crafted, natural, handmade goods can't compare with the things those stores are offering. ;)

Anyway, just find myself feeling so happy and grateful as we enter into both the seasons of our own handmade gift making and a busy shopping season and I wanted to share some of the reasons why. :) And unashamedly want to encourage you to support natural and handmade shops! The extra expense is worth it when you're buying for your future; both in a product that will still be in use 80 years from now, and in the environmentally and FAMILY friendly and conducive method in which the product was born.

Happy belated Thanksgiving as well! I'm thankful for every experience and every sip of air, so I couldn't possibly begin narrowing a statement like that down! (Though I've tried.)

Thanks for your support and MERRY CHRISTMAS to the world!!!! :o)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wednesday Yarn Along - PONIES!!

Again, joining with Ginny's Wednesday yarn along to share what I've been knitting and reading lately.

The answer?

 Ponies, ponies, ponies! The one I shared in progress in my last week's yarn along was sold before I got the tail on him. So, I went ahead and finished the baby that was going to accompany him and was trying to finish his Momma for the second time when I ran out of yarn. Then I got a second order for my Spirit pony for a return customer and was just two miserable legs away from finishing him when I ran out of yarn. Arrugh! I've let Annie in on my secrets and am having her help me keep up with the demand. She's making another Apple's pony since he's already sold twice to happy customers.

My finished ponies are my company and inspiration as I knit.

Their cute little faces tell me that I'm doing a good job!
(This new little guy was just added to the shop yesterday!)

And the fact that Donna is tenderly playing with them every time I turn my back proves they're very child appealing and friendly! I always feel so bad when I have to separate them. :(

Oh, and no, I am not reading "On Cherry Street". I've already read it myself... When I was 6 or 7. It was the first book I read cover to cover and I was so proud of myself! :) Actually, Johnny is in the process of reading it aloud to me everyday while I knit or work on the computer. 
I remember the stories with a touch of fondness, but Johnny's rendition is something new and special in it's own way. :)

Our shop's have been doing very well lately. I am SO happy!! :) And very thankful (tis the season you know!). I've developed a small circle of handmade friends through etsy whom I've come to love and admire, as well as a blooming passion for the natural handmade. Once you've experienced both, there simply is no comparison to the feel of cheap plastic or something real in your hands. I just love the feeling of real, natural material!

If you still have some Christmas shopping to do yet, I strongly encourage you to check out little family-run, handmade etsy shops for some lovely gift ideas! Of course I'm partial to the ones on my sidebar. ;) The Vermont Branch Company and the Wood Garden are two of my favorite, just wonderful little family run shops that deserve support for their wholesome genuineness! :) Also, if you're looking for exclusively natural toys you should check out Natural Kids. It's a collaboration of all the natural handmade toy shops on etsy and there are some really great finds on there!

Okay, I have to go; we're busy cleaning and baking for Turkey day tomorrow! :)

You all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!! :)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Handmade Holidays 2011 - Creative Homemade Cards on the Cheap!

Something we've been talking about lately, is what we are going to do for our Christmas Ecard this year. You see, something that has always had me hung up on Christmas is the expense of sending every relative and friend a card at Christmastime. We love to be creative, we love to spend time making something for others and sharing some holiday cheer, but when the stamps and envelope $ is added up it's usually out of budget. We decided a while back, that an ecard (an emailed Christmas card) with some effort was the simplest (and, I hate to admit it, cheapest), way to share some holiday cheer. We try to put a lot of effort and creativity into it to spread the joy and have a little holiday fun.

In the past, we've taken family photos out in the snow, dressed as the holy family and struggling with our animals to cooperate in a family picture. (Imagine shepherds wildly chasing neurotic sheep across the barnyard in their makeshift 'skirts', Joesph being dragged by a baby cow, baby Jesus having his clothes eaten and angels with cats jumping on them... yes, we've done it all! ;)

One year, we also added an audio clip with some attempts at caroling.

Last year, 2010, was our most elaberate card yet. (<--Click there if you haven't seen it yet.) We combined our music with a corny music video. I wanted to do something with sweet Christmas music and the boys wanted to be goofy with rock Christmas music so Andrew had the idea to banter back and forth between the  boys and girls with the more contemporary girl's style of music and the boy's more rocky style. That was a lot of fun, but a LOT of work to put together. It's a memory for sure (Donna still loves to go back and watch it) but I don't think this year's plans have any hopes of topping it! Last year, we started mid Oct. with the planning. Each kid picked a song, Annie converted them all to a 130 beat (that was tough! Anyone remember how fast my 'Sleigh Bells' had to be?). I then scheduled our game plan on the calender and allotted a week to each song for learning, converting, arranging and recording. Some of the songs ran a little over with 16 or more tracts needing to be being recorded, but it evened out because some ran a little under when they were more simple (Theresa's 'Oh Holy Night' was done in just a day or two), thankfully, in the end they were all finished by my deadline. The video was then shot in one day and the boys had a few days of compiling and editing then, both the audio and the video. I love it because you can really see our family's personality through it: the boys have to be goofy; they can't help it. Johnny was going crazy as soon as he realized the pomp pom on the end of his hat. The girls try to be contemplative and creative but it always ends up laughing at the boys. Even Dad, who gave his best shot at being traditional (think Mr. Von Trap), ended up in laughter at the end of the shot (after it freezes and goes back you can hear it).

So, anyway, whatever you come up with to do, timing and scheduling is important. If you're holidays are shaping up to be busy, then don't attempt to pull off too much. You'll burn the cheer right out of your attempts. Secondly, feedback and ideas from every family member is important. Everybody should be comfortable and in their element, whether you're taking pictures, filming a short film or showing off some family talent (can anyone dance?).

If nothing else, how about getting a little creative with your family photo this year? Here are some ideas to help you get started!

Source: via Mary on Pinterest

Decide what kind of family you are, and that should help you come up with ideas.




-Nerdy? How many people in your family? What could you spell with that number of letters?



-Young, nutty, family?

Medium aged family with style?

Or humor?

Older family with a little goofiness yet?

How about some camera creativity? Simple photo editing skills and software open the doors to lots of possibilities!

Want to send more then a photo, but don't have the time/creativity?

Try elfing your family at

They offer cute elf ecards like this one.

 And funny ones like this one. (<--our favorite--check that one out!)

Or you could get creative like these folks did, and make your own video ecard.

Bottom line: have fun, be creative, bond with your family and enjoy the holidays!!!

I'll catch up with you folks later--I'm off to butcher the bird(s)! :)


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wednesday Yarn Along - A Pony in Progress

Joining with Ginny @Small Things to share what I've been knitting and reading lately:

Since I've sold two of them this week, I'm working on another pony for my Toy Barn. This one is going to be a vanilla buckskin with a light brown mane, tail and the buckskin stripe down her back. And, at the urging of my younger siblings, I've been contemplating making a filly to accompany this Momma mare... What do you think? :) 

Johnny and I are still reading through Prince Caspian. We have a deal going where I will read to him in the evenings if he reads an easy reader aloud to me while I'm washing the lunch dishes. He's getting good enough to read Prince Caspian to himself! (Though, C.S. Lewis can write quiet a mouthful at times). Besides, I'm going to miss our evening dates in a lazy boy together!

Snow on the ground when we woke up this morning. Didn't take long to get the kids out of bed for that! Nor for snowballs to be flying and red hands to be coming in and latching on to Mom. :) Donna said she had to take her mittens off because otherwise she couldn't pick up the snow! :)

Oh, and another tasteless Tuesday went by... have I made any enemies over that or are we all good? ;)


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Handmade Holidays 2011 Making Ornaments

One of our more recent family traditions around Christmas is to make an ornament from our previous year's tree. Of course, this is only possible if you use real Christmas trees every year. :) Which we do. We've only been doing this for a few years, but already I love seeing a previous year's tree hanging on the branch of a current year's tree. (And no, we don't have our tree up yet!) 
So, today, Andrew cut up the trunk from our 2009 tree (yeah, we're behind!) and the kids and I decorated them. There were enough pretty pieces that we decided to all make our own. You can see all the pretty shapes Andrew cut for us. We also printed and drew a few simple patterns and got our carbon tracing paper and cute smiles ready!

Feeling through the paper, I had to guesstimate as I centered up my images on the wood rounds.

The carbon paper works very nicely if you draw on the lines hard enough.

If you don't, you have to go over the lines again with a pencil.

Then, we wood burned (with our new cool wood burner) on the lines.

I messed up on mine a little, but Michael did really good on his little Christmas puppy!

Johnny did his own, I did Donna's and mine.

Then we hemp oiled them. (This is my original artwork - ha!)

The first part Donna could do by herself!

A small drilled hole and some ribbon and bells later...

Ta da!

Our names and the year on the back and we have a little something to remember last year's tree by.

Are you doing anything for the handmade holidays? I'd love to hear about/see it!