Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy Holidays

Just a quick post to say Happy Holidays to all our customers, our employees, our suppliers, and our neighbors. Thank you for another great year!
Millie, Dan, Jule, Abby, Riley and Duncan.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Please sign our petition to save handmade toys

Please, if you value locally made, handmade, fair trade, organic, or European toys, please click here to sign the following petition:

Like many people, I was deeply concerned by the dangerous and poisonous toys that large Chinese toy manufacturers have been selling to our nations families. And, I was very pleased that Congress acted quickly to protect America's children by enacting the CPSIA.

However, I am very concerned that the CPSIA's mandates for third party testing and labeling will have a dramatic and negative effect on small toymakers in the USA, Canada, and Europe, whose toy safety record has always been exemplary.

Because of the fees charged by Third Party testing companies, many small toymakers will be driven out of business. Their cottage workshops simply do not make enough money to afford the $150 to $4,000 price tag per toy that Third Party testers are charging.

I support a reform of the CPSIA so that toys made in batches of less than 5,000 units per year or manufactured within the USA and trusted countries with established toy safety regimes such as Canada and the European Union be held exempt from third party testing requirements. They should be held to the same high quality standards defined by the CPSIA but will not need to pay for expensive third party testing or batch labeling.

These toy makers have earned and kept the public's trust. They provide jobs for hundreds and quality playthings for thousands. Their unique businesses should be protected.

You can also write to Congress and the CPSC urging reform of the CPSIA to protect small toymakers. Visit for more info. Thanks!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Handmade Toys Facing Extinction

From Dan: I've been writing this post in my head for a while, but the time has come to commit words to pixels.

As a store, we've always been concerned about safety. One of the biggest reasons Millie and I started Peapods was to provide healthier and safer toys than what was available everywhere else. For ten years, I think we've done a pretty good job of that.

But, many of our smallest toymakers are now facing a possibly insurmountable burden imposed by Congress when it passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) this past August. The CPSIA was designed to prevent the problems caused by large China-based manufacturers who failed to control quality and turned 2007 into "The Year of The Recall"

One of the central aspects of the CPSIA is that it mandates third party testing of all children's products. Not just toys--everything from cloth diapers to Barbie Dolls. For large manufacturers, this adds a cost of a few hundred dollars per toy, which is negligible when you're making hundreds of thousands of toys at a time.

For small toy companies, however, the cost can be a lot more serious, especially if you make lots of different toys which will each require testing. Third party laboratories are charging anywhere from $150 for simple wood blocks to $4,000 for a wooden rattle, depending on the toy and the specific standards that apply to it. For some of our toymakers, these costs will put them out of business. These rules go into effect this coming February.

In fact, we have just learned that Selecta Spielzeug, which makes all their toys in Germany from hardwoods finished with beeswax, will cease selling to the Unitied States this month because they cannot afford testing.

Another toymaker that we've carried for ten years wrote to us: "This new law makes it impossible for us to stay in business as our understanding is that on one simple product each color thread, each piece of trim, interfacing and each color of silk must be tested...the cheapest [third party testing] rates we have found are $230 phtalates [per toy] and $35 per lead component. One simple toy was found to have 8 components so each one will cost $35. And we have over 100 other products to test."

Many small toymakers, WAHM diaper makers, etsy crafters, fair trade companies, and small kids clothing companies are just starting to realize what the ramifications of the CPSIA will be.

Truly, we're feeling a bit depressed about all this. We never thought we'd be in a position where we'd be arguing against the regulation of industry. But, this law was simply written without any consideration for small manufacturers, the great majority of whom have exemplary safety records. If this law were applied to food, almost every farmer at the farmer's market would be out of business.

We've been working with other stores and toymakers to argue for improvements to the CPSIA through a new group called The Handmade Toy Alliance. We're hoping that we can persuade Congress and the Consumer Products Safety Commission to make some reasonable accomodations that might save small manufacturers. Please take a moment to visit our site and, if you feel as we do that small toymakers should be protected, click on "How You Can Help" and write a letter to Congress and the CPSC.

Dan and Millie

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Riley writes ad copy

From Dan: So, we had a thought to run an ad in our local paper for the holidays. We wanted to convey an idea that our toys may cost more than Walmart's, but they have greater play value, meaning your kids will spend much more playing with them than a disposable plastic toy.

I was already having trouble formulating a succinct turn of phrase that conveyed this idea, when Millie said, "I want something that says, these are the toys that you'll be happy to see your children open under the tree. These are the toys that you'll feel good about watching them play with...Can you combine that with your idea of play value?"


The best I came up with was "Authentic Toys that Inspire". Jule said, "Inspire what, exactly?"

Just then Riley wandered into the office and asked what we were up to. I asked if he had any ideas.

How about "Toys that Make You Smile"? he asked.

Indeed. Toys that make you smile.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Motrin Feels Your Pain

So, Motrin thought they'd appeal to baby wearing moms with a condescending ad about back pain and baby slings.

Reaction from moms was swift and decisive. According to Forbes, "a flood of scathing items appeared on Twitter...The website went down Sunday night and as of Monday morning still hasn't come back up." We imagine that'll be a hard pill to swallow for the Johnson & Johnson marketing department.

Friday, November 14, 2008

More Good News

So, November 4th was Duncan's fourth birthday! Like the night before his birth (when Bush was reelected, poor kid), the event was partially imbued with politics.

Duncan didn't mind, though. When we called the kids together to watch Obama's speech in Grant Park, Duncan exclaimed, "What? Barack Obama got elected? On my birthday?!" How cool is that?

For those wanting more good news, check out this issue of the New York Times! After all, anything's possible.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Plastics industry wrote FDA policy on BPA

As you think about who to vote for next week, consider this. The Milwaukee Journal reports that the FDA, which ruled in August that the plastics additive BPA is safe, was influenced heavily and guided by plastics industry representatives. In a pattern similar to what we've seen at the Consumer Products Safety Commission relating to toy safety, the Bush administration's FDA has deliberately allowed industry to determine its policy. The result is that baby bottles, water bottles, toys and hundred of other products continue to be made with BPA, despite mounting evidence of the chemical's harmful effects on the endocrine system.

Environmental Working Group (EWG) President Ken Cook said, "An agency that once epitomized independent, impartial expertise in the service of public health has degenerated to a disgraced stenographer for the chemical and plastics industry." You can read here a more extensive criticism of the FDA under Bush from the Organic Consumers Alliance.

I'm sure we'll continue to find fault with government agencies no matter who is president. But, nothing more than regime change can reorient these important government agencies so that they fulfill their mandates and protect public health rather than promote the interests of industry.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Obama defeats McCain (In paper dolls at least)

Yep, When it comes to paper dolls, the results are in. Obama dolls outsold McCain dolls in our store by a 3 to 1 margin. Nationally, the Dover Book Company tells us that Obama has outsold McCain by 2 to 1. In fact, they're almost out of Obama dolls. We still have a few left, but they're going fast. We haven't had this much fun in an election year since Al Gore ate at the St. Clair Broiler back in 2000!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Announcing Do Good Diaper Service Starter Kits

We've always thought that a cloth diaper service is an excellent introduction to cloth diapering for new parents. I mean, when you have a new baby, you want to provide the best for your child and the environment, you don't have a lot of extra time for doing laundry. It's a great time to do some outsourcing.

So, we're very pleased to partner with Minneapolis-based Do Good Diapers, the Twin Cities only cloth diaper service. We now stock the Do Good Diapers Starter Kit, which retails for $72.50 and has everything you need to start up with diaper home delivery--6 Prorap diaper cover, a pair of Snappi fasteners, 10 cloth wipes, a nylon diaper tote bag, and a coupon for 1 FREE week of Do Good Diapers delivery service (worth $19-$23). How cool is that?

Although a service costs more than washing diapers yourself, it's still a lot cheaper than disposables and much better for the environment. So, if you're thinking that you'd like to try cloth but aren't up for laundry, stop into the store and do some good with Do Good Diapers. Check their website to learn more about delivery areas and how the service works.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Two hikes in the woods

From Dan: It sure was a great weekend here in Minnesota. Two beautiful warm fall days with the leaves at their colorful peak. On Saturday we went hiking out to Pike's island at Fort Snelling State Park, just below the airport under the Hiawatha bridge. We first visited this park a few years ago, having lived in the Twin Cities all our lives and never seen it before. It's a pretty cool place, with a lot of land hidden away where the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers merge. We climbed fallen cottonwoods and walked along the river and picked up some trash.

We also found out about the State Park system's Geocaching courses, which are new this year. Homeschoolers that we are, we got oursleves a low-end handheld GPS and trekked out to Afton State Park on Sunday. (Many parks also have free GPS units available for checkout.)

Abby and Riley took turns with the GPS, directing us from one checkpoint to the next until we found all 6 of the geocaches in the park, which took us about 2 hours and 2 1/2 miles of walking (we're pretty slow in the woods). When we found the final cache, we got to write our names in the log book and collect a card as proof. Riley's excited about collecting cards from all 72 State Parks and Recreation Areas that have set up geocache courses, but that might be a little ambitious. Still, Millie noted that it's at least as fun as golf without having to hit a ball around--a free and fun outdoor family activity.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Peapods Top 5 Toys for 2008

Looking forward to the holiday season, we ran a report on our fancy pants computerized cash register to see what our most popular toys were in the past year. We were very pleased to see that, out of our top 20 toys priced over $10, only 3 were made in China. We were also very pleased with our top 5, which really are some of the best toys we offer.

So, here's the Peapods top 5 toys for 2008:

Number 5: The Plan Toys Shape and Sort A simple shape sorter for ages 1 and up, made in Thailand by Plan Toys. We love this toy because it's very open-ended, very durable, and the blocks made a satisfying clunk sound when you drop them through the holes. And, we love Plan Toys for their quality, design, and their commitments to environmentally sustainability and fair labor practices.

Number 4: The Plan Toys Punch 'N Drop Another favorite toddler toy from Plan, the Punch and Drop is probably the best selling toy in the history of our store. Hammer or push the colored balls through the top and they clunk down and roll out the side of the box. It's like playing peek-a-boo. Also made in Thailand.

Number 3: Baby Bottoms Anatomically Correct Cloth Dolls These toddler safe cloth dolls are great for potty training or big brothers and sisters. Soft and cuddly with a removable diaper. These are made in China.

Number 2: Sophie the Giraffe Sophie is so cute, so sophisticated, that it's almost a shame that she's so easy and satisfying for babies to chew on. Made in France from natural rubber, Sophie mutters a cute little squeek when squeezed. A great teether for babies and toddlers.

And our Number 1 Best Selling Toy for 2008: Uncle Goose Classic Embossed Alphabet Blocks Made in Michigan by the really nice folks at Uncle Goose, these blocks are carved with embossed designs that harken back to the turn of the last century. Truly a classic, these blocks not only teach letters, but are great for stacking up and knocking down. In fact, with our kids, we found no better motivation to entice a baby to try to scoot across the floor than to make a short stack of blocks just out of her reach. We also offer these in Spanish and ASL/Braille.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The book's always better than the movie

From Dan: The kids and I went to see the movie City of Ember tonight. Abby was excited to see it because she'd read the books. Riley was excited because he loves a good movie. We had a great time. The movie was pretty good, too.

One of the previews we saw was for Inkheart, which is another movie made from a book we've enjoyed--in this case as an audiobook on one of our long family trips. It's remarkable, I think, how many wonderful works of children's literature are being made into movies. A lot of our favorites have already been done: The Dark is Rising, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Ella Enchanted, Eragon, Narnia, the Golden Compass, Despereaux and of course, Harry Potter.

I don't remember all of my favorite stories turning into movies when I was a kid, but I think it's kind of cool to first experience a tale as only words and then as moving images. Riley and Abby agree that sometimes the images your mind creates when your reading or listening to a story are better than what a movie can create. But the movie condenses and sharpens the story in interesting ways--some of which are not deemed acceptable. Ask Abby, for example, how many plot points the movie of Prince Caspian got wrong and you'll likely get an earful.

Abby says she'd like to see Hollywood adapt the works of Tamora Pierce or the Mysterious Benedict Society. And, we're still holding out hope for the The Subtle Knife and The Hobbit.

In the meantime, Riley's hoping that the folks in Wisconsin Dells will build a City of Ember waterslide like the one in the movie. "That was totally awesome!", he said.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

NYTimes: Momma, I'll Have What You're Having

The New York Times today sand the praises of making your own baby food with the little hand-powered food mill we sell. It's an excellent article with lots of ideas and guidelines. Yes, what's good for mom and dad can be good for baby, too!

You can read the article here.

And, um, you can buy your own Baby Food Mill here.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Chicken and Egg Situation

From Dan: Well, it looks like the stock market laid an egg again today. But here in our Little House in the Midway, we are eagerly anticipating our first eggs from our small backyard flock, which should be arriving soon. Our hens are spry young adults, with their feathers proudly poofed and layered and with their waddles coming in.

We've been improving their henhouse with the addition of nesting boxes, which are two small sheltered spaces where our girls will feel snug and cozy enough to lay. We added a golf ball and a large white marble that Riley got from The Essence of Nonsense to encourage egg laying thoughts. We'll see which works better.

It strikes me how smart chickens are. Not learned or intelligent, but in an instinctive and inborn way. They find their way back into their hutch every night. They flock and stick together. They peck only the ripe tomatoes in the garden. They know that when half a crusty old baguette is thrown to them, the easiest part to eat will be the cut end.

I don't know if the simple lives of chickens might hold some promise for calming the turmoil that our country seems to be flying into. But, it's hard to deny how much folk wisdom comes from these silly birds--almost all of which currently applies on Wall Street: The chickens have come home to roost. The fox guarding the henhouse. Don't keep all your eggs in one basket. Egg on their faces.

Maybe these birds have just grown on us, but I can't help feeling reassured that they're with us, providing sustenance while we sustain them as humans and chickens have done for thousands of years.

Monday, September 22, 2008

New Bum Genius Brights!

bumGenius New Bright Colors
They're here! Bright new colors from Bum Genius: Ribbit, Moonbeam, Zinnia, and Clementine. Designed to complement the original pastel bumGenius colors, these new brights will really stand out in a crowd. Cute stuff.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dispatch from the ABC Kids Expo

From Dan: Millie and I just returned from the ABC Kids Expo in Las Vegas, which seemed to be about 50% bigger than last year.

Las Vegas was the same as always--hot, loud, and crowded. On Monday, we got to witness a rare thunderstorm, though, which flooded the streets up to our taxi's wheel wells. I guess they don't build real big storm sewers in Las Vegas.

The expo itself was a huge mixture of strollers, diaper bags, baby carriers, toys, and just about everything else you might buy for a kid. We visited with a lot of our suppliers that we've worked with for years, like Moby Wrap, Ergo, Bum Genius, and Maya Wrap. And we found lots of new items that we hope you'll like when they arrive in our store.

As always, the Bad Idea Fairy has been busy in the past year. We saw several products designed to help toddlers keep track of their food, including a strap that attaches a sippy cup to a child's wrist so they won't lose their juice and a silicone band that performed a similar function for bagels. The worst idea we saw was the "Baby Beehavin"--a stroller with a built in DVD player. Why look at the world around you or even at your mother's face when you can just sit and watch Dora?

We also saw dozens of products designed to solve problems that don't really exist, like a tether that you connect to your kid when you go out so that you don't accidently leave them in the car; or a sticker with a hand print on it that you put on the side of your car and tell your kids to keep their hands on the sticker while you load groceries. Well intended, both. But needed?

Finally, we saw LOTS of celebrities!!!!! Well, not really celebrities, but pictures of them either caught in the act of using a baby product or quickly photographed at some event where a free diaper bag or swaddle blanket is shoved into their hands. Some of them we didn't even know--like a soap star who was going to make an appearance at the Foogo booth to help them sell sippy cups. We paused to ask about a certain baby sling and all we got was a bunch of nonsense about how many celebrities owned it.

Hello baby product makers everywhere: We don't care what Angelina Jolie uses for diaper rash or which baby shoes Adam Sandler's kid wears when he's shopping. LEAVE THOSE CELEBRITIES ALONE! NO ONE CARES!

So, that's our report from the baby gear trenches. It was nice to come home to September in Minnesota.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

More Drama in St. Paul

From Millie: We watched the Sarah Palin speech last night. I have to admit, I was more favorably impressed by her than I expected to be. She has five beautiful kids. She seems to love her husband. They seem to be handling the whole teen pregnancy with a certain amount of grace. She seems like she might be a good mom. She seems like a fairly normal person--someone with whom you could have an interesting conversation at the neighborhood block party.

All that said, I think Sarah Palin is frighteningly unqualified to be a Vice Presidential candidate. John McCain is an old man, and in spite of the fact that he keeps trotting out his healthy mother, statistically there is a very good chance he will kick the bucket in the next four years. And the thought of Palin being president for even a day makes my blood run cold. She doesn't have the education, the experience, the knowledge, the vision, or the wisdom. As far as I can tell, she has no experience of anything outside of her life in Alaska.

Now, I'll admit, I'd be happy if McCain chose Ronald McDonald as a running mate if it would help him loose the race. But still--what were they thinking?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Call me Uncle John

From Dan: This picture is from today's NY Times. John McCain greets Bristol Palin's boyfriend Levi right here in St. Paul.

Millie and I started dating as Sophomores in High School, and growing our relationship through parental expectations, school, and the realities of the real world wasn't entirely easy. But, at least we didn't have to contend with national politics or an abstinence-only health curriculum.

I can only imagine what McCain is saying to Levi and Bristol here. "Time to be a man, son. What would would like for a wedding present? A nice toaster oven?" Juno this isn't.

It seems really sad to me that these kids have been hurled into this situation. Hopefully they'll be out of the spotlight after November.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

One Rich Cookie

Now, we know that the haute parenting magazine Cookie isn't meant for us. We don't usually recognize the celebrities or the Manhattan boutiques they tend to profile. But, we always thought it was an interesting window into a world where style is all that matters and no one ever has a poopie diaper. We sometimes even found interesting products within its tony pages.

But the September 2008 issue made us think maybe this is written for people we will never even meet. People who own, say, 8 houses. Inside the cover, the first four pages are dedicated to Ralph Lauren spreads featuring kids in knit Polo sweaters who look as if they can sense the unfashionable shoes we're both wearing and are slightly put off by them.

Next we have a two page spread by DKNY featuring tweens who look like they're on their way to a Cosmo photo shoot. If that's too flashy for your taste, the next two pages by Lord & Taylor offer a lifestyle of casual blue-blooded elegance. After that we have a spread featuring a vision of tween love by Guess.

So who is this magazine for? The next page makes it clear with a Citi ad featuring a multi-million dollar home on the coast of Maine with a palm tree planted outside. Using his Citi Card, Dad helped smooth the move to Maine for his daughters by relocating a palm tree "roots and all...Now we have a little bit of Palm Beach right off the coast of Portland." Thanks, Dad!

Then, we're briefly back to reality with a full page ad for Prada reminiscent of Jackie O. But, we're soon off again with a photoshopped ad for "Adventures by Disney", where you'll see "What most ordinary tourists never see..from exploring the Galapagos with a naturalist to hiking with huskies through the Alps." Sounds nice. Then...a Gucci ad.

We've always argued that it's worth spending more to get quality stuff for your kids that's ethically made. But, we're still just a couple of middle class midwesterners. After all, what kids need most is your time, not your money. Our cookie, it seems, is granola. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Really Great Day at the State Fair

From Dan: Sometimes I really like the State Fair--even though it makes it impossible to get around our neighborhood for 12 days. Somehow all the folksiness and strange smells make it feel much more inclusive and less alienating than Minnesota's other great get-together, the Mall of America.

We got there at about 4:30 and saw the crafts building and the 4H building (Abby's 4H club had performed their "10-Minute Hamlet earlier in the afternoon), climbed on the tractors, checked out the Eco Experience, rode the trolley, ate corn on the cob, and rode the giant slide (which has been my favorite thing at the fair since I was a kid.) Duncan didn't want to do it last year, but he loved it this year.

Near the slide is the McCain campaign booth, which looks a little like a shack. I think it used to belong to Jesse Ventura. It was none too busy. I sent Riley over to it to ask "Is this one of McCain's seven houses?" The campaign folks didn't seem to know how to answer him. We laughed for a long time about that.

Then we rode the river ride (Millie and Abby got really wet) and went to the baby animals exhibit. Riley stood mesmerized for about 20 minutes watching a chicken hatch from an egg. Then we had to see the real chickens at the Poultry Barn and discovered that cochins (of which we own two) grow really really big. One of the buff cochins was about the size of a turkey. Yikes!

Next we procured some honey ice cream and went to hear Brandi Carlile, who did a free show at the bandstand. Not a bad day at all.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bush signs CPSC Reform Bill

Today President Bush signed into law a much-needed reform of the CPSC, including increased funding, stronger authority, much reduced limits on lead in toys, and a ban on many types of phthalates in plastic toys. He wasn't sure he was gonna do it, but he found a way. Good boy, George! You're a really useful engine!

December '08 update: When we wrote this post, we assumed that this law would prevent more poison toys from China, but we had no idea it would have a devastating impact on small American and European toymakers who have been making safe toys all along by requiring them to perform expensive third party testing. It seems small toymakers were simply overlooked when this law was passed. The devil is in the details! Please visit the Handmade Toy Alliance for more details, including how you can help.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Oxford Pool AKA Great River Waterpark

From Dan: The kids and I finally got over to the newly renovated Oxford Pool on Lexington Parkway. We'd being swimming there for years and Abby and Riley took many of their swimming lessons there. But, it's been closed for the past couple of years for some major renovations.

I have to say that we were quite fond of the old Oxford Pool, even though it was kind of run down. We were a little afraid that the new pool would be all gimicky squirty things with not many places to actually swim.

But, we were quite pleasantly surprised. The new pool is clean and comfortable with lots to do. True, the old giant bathtub that served as a wading pool is gone, but the climby splashy thing that replaced it was plenty entertaining. They added water slides without taking away from the main pool and the waterslides were actually quick and fun. Best of all, St. Paul Parks kept the diving board, which is a rare thing in an indoor pool these days. And, unlike some other pools we could name, the lifeguards were attentive but laid back. The only downside to the new pool was the Sauna--the old Oxford had the hottest sauna in town, which probably wasn't the best thing from a public health point of view, but I really liked it in the middle of January.

All in all, it was a great improvement. We're looking forward to spending quite a few winter evenings there.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Congress Finally Cleans Up Toys

Well, it looks as if the US Congress is actually going to do right by the children of America and ban lead and phthalates in toys. Exxon Mobil, your friendly neighborhood phthalate manufacturer, led the opposition, but they seem to have lost in the end. President Bush may veto the bill, which also strengthens the Consumer Products Safety Commission, but you never know. Maybe even he doesn't want to be cast as an advocate for poison toys.

Unfortunately, the bill won't take affect until 2009. Read here for a complete account of the bill.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Here's our Plan for the Holidays

Well, we ran low on Plan Toys last season, including toddler toys, kitchen toys, and dollhouses. We thought we'd improve the situation this year with a little bit of Planning ahead. So, today, a big truck pulled up and now we've got lots of Plan Toys! It took seven of us 3 hours to get it all priced and put away. Yippee!

Metro Independent Business Alliance announces "Business to Business Teach-In"

We've been helping to plan this event with MetroIBA, so if you own or work for a small business, take a look. We think it'll be pretty interesting.

MetroIBA B2B Teach In: "Making Your Business Greener"
Join us Wednesday, September 10 at 6:30 pm for a panel discussion featuring local environmental and business leaders. Learn practical and effective solutions to make your business more environmentally friendly and your bottom line a little greener, too. At the Warners' Stellian Headquarters in St. Paul (Just South of Como & Dale, 1 mile north of I-94.) Cost: $10 for member, $25 for non-members (which can be applied to your membership fee if you join).

Visit for more info about promoting and strengthening locally owned independent businesses.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A Belated Remodelling Update

From Dan: This post is a couple of months late, since we finished our remodeling back in May. We were in such a hurry to get it done that we forgot to post anything here about it. Basically, we ripped out the threadbare carpet, put in a new floor, and painted the walls in the half of our store that we originally occupied before our expansion 2 1/2 years ago. We meant to do it sooner, but...well, it was a really big job. Millie and I did all the work ourselves.
^ That's me getting ready to paint the walls.

We immediately noticed an improvement in our air quality after we took the carpet out. After seeing how yucky it was after 8 years of use, I don't think we'll ever install carpeting in our home or store ever again. We replaced it with commercial VCT tiles, which aren't necessarily a green product, except in the sense that they will last a long, long time and don't offgas like carpet does. You see them in a lot of high-traffic retail spaces because they're virtually indestructible. Most places don't choose bright blue and green colors, though.

With the remodel, we've also done some rearranging. Our aim was to group stuff togther better so that all the baby stuff was together and all the big kid toys were together, etc.

We also updated our light fixtures in that half of the store, adding more light toward the back. We found these new CFL spot lights, which burn cooler and are more efficient, to replace some of our halogen bulbs. Our lighting is now about 85% CFL and 15% halogen.

Someone asked me in the middle of the project who our architect was, which I thought was funny as I explained that we, um, did it ourselves. Which is maybe an example of what makes an independent business different from a chain store. That guy with the paint in his hair and that woman with floor adhesive on her leg? They're the owners.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Chicken Update

We built a chicken coop for our six hens this past weekend. We used old shelving from the store to build most of it. Here's a few pictures:
Abby and Riley moving a completed wall into place.
Abby holds Silver, our Blue Cochin, who warily eyes the proceedings.Our six hens (and a couple of turkeys?) safely in their new home. The design is based loosely on a plan we found here. We added a pair of old wagon wheels so we can move it around the yard.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ferries and Asparagus

From Dan: We like ferries. On our vacation to Michigan and Ontario that we just got back from, we took the SS Badger both ways across Lake Michigan so that we didn't have to drive through Chicago or all the way across the UP. It's an old-fashioned steamship with cabins you can rent and bingo, which Abby and Riley loved. They make the four hour journey across 60 miles of lake pretty fun.

Anyway, one of the side effects of a ferry is the schedule. Our return trip didn't leave Ludington, Michigan until 8pm and we were staying only 2 hours away in Traverse City. Once breakfast was over, we had about 9 hours to make a 2 hour drive.

So, we took the scenic route, driving all through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park and stopping at beaches and historical sights along the way. Riley and I talked to a blacksmith in the Park Service's Glen Harbor who made an iron wall hook and gave it to Riley. Then we played in the sand, drove some more, played at another beach, walked to a lighthouse, and had a great lunch at a tavern in Manistee.

Along the way, we discovered an asparagus farm and bought a few pounds of freshly cut spears. When we got a chance to cook it up, even Riley had to admit it was delicious. Way better than California asparagus. It turns out that Michigan is the third largest grower of asparagus, which is picked in April, May and June (we picked up a brochure). We really enjoy eating local foods as we travel. (Our last trip to Michigan was in late August, which is peach season. We found peaches at roadside stands that will always be the peaches by which all other peaches will be compared. We also learned that, because they're a mild laxative, children should not be allowed to each half a dozen peaches all at once on a road trip.)

Finally we arrived in Ludington with only an hour left to kill, which we spent at the playground by the marina. It turned out that this last day of our vacation, which we thought would involve a lot of boring waiting, turned out to be our best. Sometimes it's nice to have a boat to catch.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


From Dan: We've just crossed back into the US from Ontario (after a pretty weird border crossing experience in which the US border guard opened the side door of our Chrysler Town & Country and said "OK kids-quick! Point to Mommy!" Duncan just stared at him as if he were King Kong. Luckily all three were able to point to Millie.)

We spent several days in Toronto, where we visited a lot of toy and baby stores, went to this great little amusement park on an island across from downtown, and spent a day at the Ontario Science Centre (not to be missed). Naturally, as Americans, we noticed lots of things that are different in Canada--and not just the pretty money and the metric system.

First, we happened to be there during the Stanley Cup finals, which seemed to be a big deal. Apparently Detroit beat Pittsburgh. But, the top headlines on all the papers for two days following the game was the CBC's plans to change the Hockey Night theme song. This got top billing above Barack Obama securing the nomination down south.

Second, we noticed that there seemed to be about four times as many small businesses in Toronto than in the Twin Cities, which is about the same size. The diversity and endlessness of small, independently-owned shops on every street was amazing. It was almost garish. Our best guess was that Canada's national health care system made it a lot easier to start a new business. At least, we know for sure that the US system doesn't encourage it.

Finally, we puzzled over food. What is peameal on the breakfast menu? What is the sauce that the Swiss Chalet chain serves with its french fries (our server didn't know). And, of greatest concern to Riley, are there any hash browns to be had in Canada?

Camden Rose Toys

We visited this past week Camden Rose Toys in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Yes, we're in the middle of another summer oddyssy, although nothing like last year's month-long trek to Vancouver. This year we're doing a tour of Michigan and SW Ontario.

Judy and Jason, the proprietors of Camden Rose, are aiming to create toys of the same quality as those made in Germany. Most of their toys are made from Cherry or Maple and all have wonderful rounded edges and graceful curves. Judy gave us a short tour of their operation and some previews of what they're working on.

Our most popular toys from Camden Rose are their Cherry Rattle and their elegant Teething Ring. Aside from their toys, though, one of the great things for us about selling toys made in the USA is that we get to visit folks like Judy and Jason when we travel and learn about their stories. Another example of good toys made by good people.

Friday, May 23, 2008

2008 Newsletter

Our 2008 newsletter is going to print. If you're on our mailing list, you should receive it the first week of June. You can also view it early here. Exciting stuff!

Our 2008 Sidewalk Sale...

...will be June 20th and 21st, rain or shine. We are not exaggerating when we say we have a HUGE amount of stuff and it'll all be deeply discounted from 25-75% off. It starts at 10 a.m. on June 20--no fair arriving early. You might want to leave small children at home during the first few hours, as it's a very busy event next to a busy street. See you there!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Organic Clothes for Older Kids

We've often been asked where to find organic clothes for kids older than two. Bigger kid clothes are (for now) outside the scope of our store and we didn't really know any other good sources.

But, at last weekend's Living Green Expo, we met the folks who run My Green Closet, a local company that offers Made in USA organic clothes for big kids through their website. We bought Duncan some spiffy duds and he was quite pleased. Check them out yourself--they're good people.

Monday, April 28, 2008

JPMA says Bisphenol-A is A-OK!

We just received a press release from the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) that assures us that plastic baby bottles using Bisphenol-A are entirely safe, stating: "Sound and respected scientific research has consistently shown there is no danger to consumers when products are used as intended. Trace levels of bisphenol A (BPA) from consumer products are well below any level that could cause harm to adults or to our children."

This is the same JPMA that has argued against banning phlalates in toys and promoted a scare campaign against the family bed.

In case you're concerned, the press release indicates that the FDA is on the job: "The FDA has just announced the formation of an agency-wide task force to review the safety of BPA....The FDA continues to recommend that consumers refrain from discontinuing use of BPA-containing products."

This is the same FDA that's trying to track down that problem with Heparin and Chinese-made drugs. The same FDA that approved Vioxx.

For further reading, JPMA provided links to the following websites: - Run by JPMA itself. Likely non-biased info. - No info is provided about who runs this site, but it's meant to appear to be a grass roots website created by consumers who want to maintain their right to buy Bisphenol-A. Domain is registered by, which allows its customers to set up a website anonymously. Hmmm...could this be set up by some industry trade group...? - Is a website run by a Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group, which is organized regionally at the American Chemistry Council, PlasticsEurope, and the Japan Chemical Industry Association. I'm sure these folks don't use glass bottles.

Our question---why can't an industry facing a public relations problem just fix their product and make it better instead of trying to defend something like Bisphenol-A? Huh?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Peapods Wins City Pages Best of the Twin Cities 2008

Well, it seems we did it again--best Baby Goods Store honors from City Pages. CP wrote, "do yourself a favor and find a place that cares more about your baby than its bottom line. Peapods is one of those places." That might just be the best compliment we've ever read about ourselves in print. Thanks!

We also noticed that several other locally-owned an independent businesses got top honors, including our neighbors Wet Paint Art Supplies, Avalon Gifts, Coastal Seafoods and Mississippi Market. Take a look at the Metro Independent Business Alliance to find more wonderful locally-owned businesses!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The New York Times explains Bisphenol-A

The NY Time today published a brief but informative guide about Bishenol-A and how to identify and purge it from your home. The chemical is not limited to baby bottles, but so far they've gotten most of the press, along with Nalgene bottles. If you're looking for safe baby bottles, we have glass bottles in stock from Born Free and Evenflo and Bishenol-A free polypropylene bottles from Medela.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Isabella's Story

This video from Isabella, our friend and fellow 4-H'er speaks for itself.

Thanks for Isabella and her family for sharing this. May it bring hope to families coping with autism and change to a health initiative that needs rethinking. You can read comments from others and see related video here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Spring is finally here!

From Dan: We finally had a proper spring day today! It was windy, too, so Abby and Riley decided to make kites. The design they came up with involved string, two sticks, and a kitchen garbage bag. They worked great, so we took them to the park where there was more room.

So there was Abby and Riley, each running around Hillcrest park with beautiful billowing garbage bags, having loads of fun. Yes, those were the Peapods children--you know, from that store where they sell toys and even kites?

Well, we do have some great kites in stock right now. But sometimes there's magic in just letting your children figure something out and make it themselves. And, after a long winter, it's great to just get outside and run. Sometimes the best toys are the ones that get us out of the house on a day like today. Even if they are made from garbage bags.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Phthalates in the spotlight

We just watched an expose about phthalates in toys on the PBS show NOW. It's a very well done story, and it highlights the way the Bush Administration has continued to ignore its own studies and failed to take actions to promote public safety because of industry objections.

We do not, by the way, belong to the Toy Industry Association (TIA), which has been unwisely speaking out in favor of phthalates. We continue to ask our manufacturers about what their toys are made with. Several, including Schylling and Crocodile Creek, have led the way in removing phthalates from their toys.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Story of Stuff

We came across this 20 minute webinar called The Story of Stuff which, although simplistic, seems like a great way to teach kids about the impacts of our consumer-driven global economy. It breaks things down into small bits that make a lot of sense.

Horton Hears a Slur

From Dan: I took Riley and Abby and Duncan to see Horton Hears a Who last night. Riley was excited to see it because his homeschool co-op had made a play out to the story last year.

It was ironic and somewhat painful, then, to be confronted in the first scene with an insult. Basically, the bad guy in the movie is the "sour kangaroo", who disdainfully declares "That's why we're Pouchschoolers!", after witnessing Horton with his speck. She then proceeds to torment Horton throughout the rest of the movie.

Now, I do have an issue here with Dr. Seuss placing an elephant and a kangaroo on the same continent in the first place. But one thing that can be said about Suess is that he never singled out any cultural group for derision, except maybe Oncelers.

Hollywood, however, saw fit to add flavor to the kangaroo's malice by making her a homeschooler. It was sad to see that this kind of dig was thought acceptable.

As a secular homeschooler, er...unschooler, I hope that this isn't the beginning of a trend. It would be sad if the groupthink that Dr. Suess' original story speaks against so well suddenly turned upon such a diverse and vibrant subculture as homeschoolers.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Update on Christopher Dodd's Christmas Presents

From Dan: I spoke with the folks at Scale Model Toys at the New York Toy Fair. They reported that Christopher Dodd, the former Democratic candidate for President, did not contact them about buying Christmas presents from them. Dodd had quipped at a debate in Iowa in December that he would only buy toys made in Iowa for Christmas. Scale Model Toys is, by my reckoning, the only company still making toys in Iowa. So what did Dodd give his children for Christmas? Luckily he's not going to be the nominee and we won't have to worry about the Drudge Report bringing this scandal to light!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The New York International Toy Fair

From Dan: Millie and I just returned from two days at the NY Toy Fair, America's largest gathering of toy people, with about 35,000 attendees.

Walking Toy Fair, which takes place in Manhattan's Javits Center, takes all day. There's booth after booth of toys: new, old, weird, and familiar. As always, we were on the lookout for great new toys. This year, however, we also made a point of talking to our existing suppliers about toy safety. It was certainly a hot topic. Unlike years past, this Toy Fair had many booths of toy testing laboratories and XRF device manufacturers. We were impressed by several of the toymakers we talked to, including Dave Schylling at Schylling Toys, who has enhanced their testing and quality assurance processes. The responses we got from each company will definitely be guiding our buying decisions this year.

Also on the positive side, we saw many toy companies developing "green" toys, which is now apparently a new category. Quite a few amounted to little more than greenwashing, including one company that called its toys fair trade, but admitted upon being pressed that they have no Fair Trade certification but treated their Asian employees very well. A couple of other companies had organic stuffed animals that looked kind of like oatmeal-colored Happy Meal toys.

Several companies, however, were doing some cool stuff, including making toys in Canada or the US from recycled materials. We hope to have some of these to show you later in the year. Plan Toys and Haba have expanded their lines with some nice new stuff and we found a new source for some of the wooden toys we used to buy from Small World Toys before they crashed and burned last year.

We also observed a mushrooming trend of web-enabled toys similar to Webkins (which are, in our son Riley's opinion, dumb.) Look for a barrage of these to hit toy stores very soon. All of them offer your children the opportunity to connect with virtual friends via interactive websites and get a jump start on the Facebook generation. Go play outside!

All in all, it was a great trip. Millie and I had fun in New York--we even got to see Wicked on Broadway. (It turns out the wicked witch isn't so wicked after all!)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Floating Plastic Inevitable

From Dan: I just finished reading The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. Although it wasn't the best choice from a mental health perspective during the coldest days of this Minnesota winter, it was a very thought-provoking mind experiment. Perhaps I should have read it on the beach in Mexico.

A chapter in the middle about the longevity of all things plastic did remind me of Mexico, though. We saw all manner of floating plastic trash washes up on the beach daily, to be cleaned up by hotel and resort employees, or, in the case of a nature preserve we visited, by nobody. It turns out that all the world's oceans are swimming with a growing miasma of bottle tops, plastic bags, toys, nets, bottles, and flip flops in various stages of disintegration as their polymers are broken down by UV radiation. It turns out that the swirling currents in the centers of the oceans concentrate this garbage into a colossal vortex of floating plastic.

Another article, Moby Duck, from the January 2007 issue of Harper's Magazine, recorded how a container of PVC toy ducks spilled in the Pacific seeded beaches on 5 continents with globetrotting tub toys. Here in Minnesota, at the headwaters of the Mississippi, we don't really think about how our yogurt cup or Sponge Bob figure might find its way to a Yucatan beach or how our grass fertilizer may be contributing to the dead zone, an area the size of New Jersey where no fish lives off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico.

The World Without Us reaffirmed for me that the world is a lot more interconnected than we generally perceive. It also made the point that much of what we value most is the most impermanent and much of what we value least, like plastic junk, is the most enduring.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Yikes! Democracy in action!

From Dan: We just returned from our local caucus with our three kids. Although it'll probably telegraph exactly which party we're with, we have to say that it was a crazy and exhilarating experience. Our neighborhood community center was PACKED with people and they were still pouring in as we left. It felt like the democratic process was reawakening after a decade or so on hiatus. It was the first time in a long time that I felt truly excited about our system of government.

Monday, January 21, 2008


From Dan: As if the subzero temps of this past weekend weren't enough, today the heat in our store was broken! It was only 45 degrees when we opened at 10am. Sorry to everyone who had to endure our cold store. I think I got the worst of it. Had to take a nice long hot shower when I got home.

All this cold makes our upcoming family vacation to Mexico seem like a better and better idea. In case you haven't heard,

We will be closed January 23rd thru January 30th.

We hope to return rested, recuperated, and reheated!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

New Sassy Knitwear Hats

Just in time for the really cold weather, we have these wonderfully hip hats for kids and babies from Sassy Knitwear. They're made in Minneapolis from organic cotton and recycled wool sweaters and they're just about the cutest things that you can put on a kid's head.

Each hat is different and they're only available in our store, not online. Stop in to check them out!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

5 dangerous things you should let your kids do

As a toy store, we're all for safety. As parents, however, we found this video very interesting. It's a speech by Gever Tulley, founder of California's Tinkering School, which is dedicated things apart and putting them back together in new ways.

We wholeheartedly agree that kids should learn how to use a jack knife and how to treat fire respectfully. (Not so sure about the driving the car part, though). Tulley raises some compelling points which might help to overcome the fear that makes us limit our children in unhealthy ways.

By the way, Minneapolis has it's own wonderful version of Tulley's Tinkering School called Leonardo's Basement. Their classes are great!