Books, Fun Gift Ideas, Stores

Maggie Mae’s Kids Bookshop

Living on the west side of town, we had never made it over to Maggie Mae’s Kids Bookshop in Gresham despite hearing lots of good things. As school came to a close and we were looking for things to do, I headed over to their website to find out more.

I was immediately intrigued by their book subscription boxes and signed both kiddos up, as well as myself. Chicken and I are avid readers (Chicken is reading as I type), while Nugget is a bit more reticent (he’s building dominoes. Again.). After you sign up, you are sent a form to fill out about your reader, their reading level, and their interests. Being a bit of a nerd, I found it to be a fun process.

Before I knew it, our boxes of books had arrived. Each person’s books was wrapped in tissue paper with a lovely personalized note attached. And I have to say, they NAILED it. The two books I received were right up my alley. I had actually read one of them before, and I was kindly informed that if that happens, you are able to take the book back and exchange it for something similar.

Chicken’s books were a perfect fit for her interests, and she finished one of the books that same day. Nugget is a very tough sell when it comes to books. While he’s a perfectly competent reader, it’s just not his activity of choice if left to his own devices. But that night we snuggled up with one of the choices and he loved it. I have never heard him laugh so hard at a book. We’re talking full on belly laughs. It was great! He’s since read it again on his own, and asked to listen to the audiobook version on a recent car trip.

We were so happy with the book boxes, we decided we needed to visit. As of the time I am writing this, their website indicates you need to book a shopping appointment. While not as convenient as just being able to pop in, we actually thought the idea of having a whole bookstore to ourselves was really fun! And then I saw that, for a small fee, you can add a birthday package! Chicken’s birthday was coming up, so I thought that would be a fun treat for my little reader.

On the morning of her birthday, we headed out. We got there a bit before the shop opened, so we spent some time walking around the downtown area- which was actually really cute! When our appointment time rolled around, a very friendly staff member greeted us. She wished Chicken a happy birthday, asked her what Hogwarts house she is (Gryffindor, in case you are wondering), and put on a Gryffindor inspired playlist. She was also presented with a gift bag of goodies, which included a small gift certificate for our next visit, candies, cute erasers, temporary tattoos, bookmarks, and other trinkets. It was a fun little treat.

The store itself is small, but very sweet. It felt very homey and welcoming. Books seemed to be organized by age, with books for small children located in the front, progressing toward books for grownups in the back. They had a good selection of books as well as related merchandise such as stuffed animals, vinyl stickers, popper fidgets, shirts, etc. Nugget was excited and impressed to see a Timbers logo signed by Jeff Antinella, and Chicken was happy to see a large drawing and note by one of her favorite local authors, Aron Nels Steinke, hanging on the wall.

One of the additional perks of having a shopping appointment was the extra attention we received from the staff member. She was very friendly and fun. She asked Chicken questions about her interests and what books she likes, and was able to introduce us to several new books that look like they will be a great fit. She was patient and fun, making the whole experience very enjoyable.

While we were there, other people wandered in that did not seem to have appointments. I was having too much fun shopping for it to occur to me to ask if appointments are now optional.

You are also able to shop online, participate in book clubs, complete their summer reading program, and get reading ideas by perusing their staff favorites lists on their website. This little store really does a lot!

Overall, we loved this adorable shop and will definitely be going back!

What it’s not: as big as other famous book stores in our area or national book chains, discounted prices

What it is: an adorable local business with kind, helpful, and knowledgeable staff, a great place to get book recommendations for yourself or others, a unique book shopping experience, a fantastic book box subscription service provider

Do we recommend it? Definitely!

Fun Gift Ideas, Games, Things to do during COVID closures

Dominoes!

During quarantine, we all repeatedly heard how it was a great time to find a new hobby or develop a new skill. Well, Nugget listened and has taken it to an extreme. He found the world of toppling dominoes and I’m not sure he will ever leave.

I had stumbled across a cool video by Lily Hevesh and spontaneously showed it to Nugget and he was hooked. Much to their dismay, Chicken and Nugget are not allowed to cruise around YouTube, but I did give him permission to watch Lily Hevesh’s videos because not only are they amazing, but she seems like a truly delightful and inspirational human being.

After several videos, he begged and pleaded for dominoes for his birthday, and so dominoes he was given. He has never been a Lego or building kind of kid, so I was skeptical and pretty sure nothing much was going to come of this. So, I found a relatively inexpensive set of wooden dominoes and he was off! He was building towers and walls and all kinds of cool things. About a month later, I got him a book with colored photos of how to build even more domino tricks and he was in heaven.

And then Lily Hevesh came out with her own line of dominoes, H5 Domino Creations. And of course he had to have those. I drug my feet, because how different could they be from the ones he already had, right? But I eventually caved and I have to say, they are significantly better. I’ll save you the nitty gritty details of the differences, but in general they are much more stable and it really has made a difference in the success of his building and he now uses them exclusively, shunning his wooden ones to they toy bin and pulling them out only in times of desperation.

Nugget now spends hours each day building things and knocking them down. He has so much fun and I love seeing his skill, confidence, and creativity grow. He now incorporates other elements, making his own chain reaction machines. We have dominoes lines winding throughout the house and down the stairs. Heaven help you if you knock it down by accident. He even started his own domino YouTube channel (all videos have to be approved by me first), and he loves it. Dominoes go with him to the park, to daycare, on picnics- pretty much anywhere he goes that has a flat surface.

He’s surprisingly patient and persistent when structures fall before they are supposed to, usually only getting upset if he’s hungry or right before bed time. I could see it being a source of frustration for some kids, though.

For us, dominoes have been a great way to keep Nugget busy while building fine motor skills, being creative, learning indirectly about physics and engineering, increasing patience and persistence, and just plain old having fun.

If you think dominoes might be for your kid, give them a try! There are lots of inexpensive plastic and wooden domino sets that come with a large number of dominoes. If you are more convinced your kiddo will be REALLY into dominoes, I highly recommend the H5 Domino Creation sets. They are more of a money investment, as the price is higher and they come with fewer dominoes, but the building experience really is better.

So… dominoes…

What the are: fun, educational, easy to store and easy to take places, creative, a great way to fill time and learn new things

What they’re not: for kids with low frustration tolerance

Do we recommend them? For a kid with a building mind and determination, 1000%!

Camps and Classes, Fun Gift Ideas

Nic and Figs- a crafting store in Lake Oswego

Lately it felt as if I wasn’t getting quite enough one-on-one time with Nugget, so I began looking for something fun for us to do together.  Enter Nic and Figs to the rescue!

Nic and Figs is an amazing little shop in Lake Oswego.  Tucked inside an unassuming little store front, you enter to find an adorable selection of fantastic fabrics, crafting supplies, jewelry, and home decor.

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While they have a selection of great products, it is really their classes and camps that set them apart.  Their calendar is full of unique crafting and cooking classes for both kids and adults.  From kids classes on sewing your own pajamas, to sewing Harry Potter pillows and baking poop emoji cookies, there is something for everyone.

We have taken advantage of their offerings on several occasions.  Chicken took a class on making pajama bottoms and had a great time.  She also took a class on hand sewing  small stuffies, and was more than thrilled with the little mouse she created.

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As an adult, a friend and I took a freezer meal class and we walked home with fully prepared meals, instructions on how to store and cook them, as well as recipes to make them again.  That class was definitely a win.

A couple of Easters ago, Chicken and I took a mommy and me class and made Hot Cross Buns.  They were so good!  Chicken was so proud to deliver them to her great grandmother, and she beamed at the praise she received.

So when I started looking for something for Nugget and I to do together, Nic and Figs was one of the places I checked.  Lo and behold, the had a grown-up-and-me pavlova class.  Perfect!  Having gone before, I knew we would have fun, the instructor would be great, and the end product would be delicious.  And I was right!

Beside us, there were two other parent/child pairs.  Our instructor, Erika, was very nice and welcoming.  She walked us through separating the eggs as well as the ingredients and timing needed to make the pavlovas.  She showed us how to form the wells in the centers of the pavlovas to be filled later.  As the pavlovas baked, we began making lime curd from scratch.

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Making the lime curd was the highlight of the class for Nugget.  He zested the limes with enthusiasm (until  his hands got sticky.  Then he was out).  And then there was the citrus juicer.  He was dying to use it.  He juiced and juiced and juiced, producing much more than the needed amount.  Once he had wrung the poor limes dry, he practiced pouring his excess juice from one container to another.  He wasn’t super excited about the amount of stirring required to make lime curd, but he was definitely a fan of throwing in the chunks of butter and watching them melt.

Once the cooking was done, it was time to eat!  Erika put out the pavlovas, whipped cream, lime curd, and a selection of fresh berries and let us load up our treats.  They were delicious!  I may be forgoing all other food and subsisting solely off of lime curd.  That’s not a problem, right?  Erika helped us pack up left over components and we were sent home with cute jars of curd.  Nugget was so excited to take the results of our work home for Chicken and his dad to try.

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Throughout our shenanigans, Erika remained in good spirits.  The class was calm, laid back, and we did not feel rushed at all.  Erika was knowledgeable and was able to provide information about each step of the process and was able to answer all questions asked of her.

Overall, Nugget and I had a great time and it was a wonderful morning together.  I’m so glad we chose to do it!

So, Nic and Figs….

What it’s not: inexpensive

What it is: creative, fun, educational, quality instructors, kid friendly, something you and your kids can do- together or separately- to learn something new in a fun environment

Do we recommend it?  Absolutely!  Check out their ever changing calendar and sign up to try something new!

Their class calendar can be found here:  http://www.nicandfigs.com/classes

 

Fun Gift Ideas, Volunteering

Craft + Boogie- Crafting for a cause

One of the kindest and most genuine people I know, Meghan, started an amazing business a couple of years ago- Craft and Boogie.  The idea is simple- selling craft kits for families to do together- but the impact has been huge.  For each craft kit purchased, Meghan donates a kit to children in foster care or agencies working with disadvantaged youth.

The kits themselves are adorable.  They include everything you need- from the special supplies to basics such as scissors and glue- so you can get started and successfully complete your project as soon as you open the box.  The crafts are very cute and children are able to do a lot of it independently.  The kits are a great way for kids to have fun, feel proud of their work, for you to make memories with your children, and support children in our communities.

Chicken and Nugget have done a variety of kits.  They particularly loved a 4th of July kit that used a toilet paper tube, a balloon, and decorative shredded paper (we used rice I colored with  food coloring when we ran out) to create a fun confetti popper.  We also tried out the airplane busy kit, which kept them engaged for quite a while on a past flight.  It contains several easter eggs with games, toys, or play ideas for children to open up and try out.  It’s been almost a year and they still fill up the easter eggs with ‘surprises’ for each other.  There are kits themed for holidays, birthdays, and events such as flights, weddings, camping, etc.

Another amazing aspect of Craft and Boogie is the involvement of the community in the business.  Meghan hosts incredibly fun events around the Portland area for kids and their families, complete with themed snacks and crafts.

She also invites others to help support her cause.  She hosts periodic packing parties to fill kits that will be donated.  Chicken’s Girl Scout troop volunteered earlier this year and the girls had a fantastic time.  Some of the girls even said it was their favorite thing we did as a troop this year.  Meghan made sure there were jobs that girls at each level could do successfully.

Earlier this week, I took Chicken and Nugget to another packing party.  This time the kits were to be donated to a local children’s hospital.   Meghan had a kids table set up for not only Chicken and Nugget, but other young children there as well.  She again did a great job providing them with developmentally appropriate tasks that were still useful and productive.  Adults worked to complete the rest of the tasks and we formed quite the assembly line to get all the kits filled!  Music played, snacks were eaten, crepe paper was rolled, papers were collated, and a good time was had by all.  While I would like to say that Chicken and Nugget were dedicated volunteers who awed and amazed all present with their incredible focus and work ethic, the truth is the completed a round or two of tasks and then took off playing with their friends.  And that was ok.

 

Craft and Boogie continues to grow, which means not only are families getting to do fun crafts together, but local children are learning that they are remembered and people care about them.  If that’s not a win-win, I don’t know what is!

You can find information about purchasing the kits, ways to get involved, and upcoming events here:  https://craftandboogie.com

Books, Fun Gift Ideas, Holiday

Little Bookish Wardrobe- one of Nugget’s Favorite New Things

Nugget loves a good dress-up day. Like every day. He lived in his Hamilton costume for a solid 6 months and I bought him a George Washington costume so that the Hamilton costume could get washed with a bit more frequency. We love going to plays and he routinely comes home to sing the songs, make costumes out of paper, rearrange our furniture to look like the set, and make posters advertising his version of the play. He started kindergarten this year and having to wear a school uniform has been killing him. I had to present it as his “school costume” to get him to buy in.

So I knew when I was looking for Christmas inspiration this year that I had struck gold with Little Bookish Wardrobe. It has been so much fun for both of us!

It is a subscription box that you can get on a regular basis or just pick one box as a gift. Each month you get a hardcover children’s book, a related costume and accessories, a card with reading comprehension/discussion questions and suggested play activities, as well as a simple craft that goes with the story. Most months seem to have a boy and girl option, while some months are more gender neutral. You can choose to be surprised or take a look at the monthly hint to make sure it is something you think your child will enjoy. It all comes in an adorable box that immediately gives you a sense of the whimsical nature of the company. Nugget loves the boxes and has been saving them to keep his costumes in.

I initially ordered just one box as a gift in order to try it out. Then I ordered two more. Then I broke down and subscribed. It is just too much cuteness!

Our first box came with a book about penguins arguing about who was the true star of the story, only to be partially erased by the illustrator when they couldn’t get along. When Nugget saw the accompanying penguin costume, complete with penguin feet, he literally gasped in amazed happiness. He immediately put on the costume, crawled into my bed, and asked me to read the story. He wore it all day, and even practiced his waddle while singing songs from Mary Poppins. Because, you know, the penguin song. The pinecone penguin craft was also adorable.

The next box we opened had a book called Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich. I wouldn’t say this was Nugget’s favorite book, but he LOVED the dracula costume. It came with a cape, fake teeth, a bat, black pants, and the ever popular cravat, all of which he immediately began styling in attempt to make it look like Jefferson from Hamilton. He has a bit of a Hamilton obsession. I’m good with that.

Next was a book about all the things Santa does other than deliver presents. It came with cream tights (we re-named them leggings as he was concerned tights may turn him into a ballerina), and a soft sleeveless reindeer vest that zipped up the front and had a reindeer face and antlers on his hood. It even had a red nose! So of course he had to wear that to the optometrist. What? That isn’t what you wear to the eye doctor? You should try it some time. You get a lot of smiles and compliments that make you prance like Rudolph himself. Especially if you are belting out Hamildolph. (Google it. It’s Rudolph’s story set to music from Hamilton. It’s amazing!).

Our most recent box came this week. It contained a book called Big Whoop and I think it was our favorite book so far. A cranky fox has two friends who come up with increasingly wild stories and finally a gift in a effort to make their fox friend smile. It came with a a full body fox costume, complete with a fox head on the hood! Nugget immediately dropped trow to put it on and even wore it to soccer. We haven’t done the moon rock craft yet, but he is excited to do so.

All of the books have been high quality, simple but entertaining stories with beautiful pictures. They aren’t necessarily newly published books, so it has been fun to discover books we may not have otherwise found. The crafts have been simple and fun. The costumes are adorable. They have varied from somewhat better than Halloween costume quality to very nice. Nugget is already debating which one will make the best Halloween costume and has several times said “I wish we could wear costumes to school,” with a long, loud, longing sigh.

Little Bookish Wardrobe has been a treasure find. It allows us to build upon our two favorite things- books and costumes. It has facilitated creative play, snuggle time, extra story time at bedtime, and lots of smiles and excitement. For us as well as the general public. 🙂 I have reached out to the company owner with questions and she has been nothing but prompt and friendly in her replies.

What it is: fun, creative, supportive of literacy and imaginative play, a great gift, a good value for what you get, perfect for the child who loves to dress up, good for the younger child, a learning and conversation tool, a friendly and accessible small business

What it is not: for kids probably over 7 or 8

Would we recommend it? 1000%! It is such a fun subscription box. I only wish we had found it sooner!

You can find out more information at: https://www.littlebookishwardrobe.com/

Adventure Box, Day Trips, Fun Gift Ideas, Holiday, Winter Activities

Cinnamon Bear Cruise- Portland Spirit Holiday Fun

This was our fifth year doing the Cinnamon Bear Cruise. So the kids clearly like it. Each year they have opted to have tickets be their gift from their grandpa in lieu of toys, so you know it’s a hit.

So what is the Cinnamon Bear Cruise? It’s based on a radio program from before the days of TV. There is also a book you can check out from the library to give your littles some context. It’s cute, but not one of our go to stories. Even if your kids don’t know the story and the characters, there is a good chance they will enjoy the novelty of the experience.

Then there’s the cruise. It lasts about 2 hours and departs from downtown Portland. There are light snacks- fruit, scones, coffee, hot chocolate, yogurt, that kind of thing. Boarding is a simple process and is facilitated by characters in costume. You even get to take a boarding photo with Captain Taffy, which you can later purchase for $10.

There are several activities that involve characters from the story- story time with Queen Melissa, singing carols with the fairies, pictures with Crazy Quilt Dragon, learning to be a pirate with Captain Taffy, a magic show with Presto the Magician, pictures with the Cinnamon bear (a copy of which is included in the price of the cruise), etc. And it is always fun to sit sipping coffee or hot chocolate and watch the city go by. Chicken and Nugget are always excited to spot OMSI and Oaks Park. One year we even spotted Santa paddle boarding down the river!

It took Nugget a couple years to warm up the the Cinnamon Bear in vivo character. Now he is a pro. This year he put on his pirate costume, complete with pirate booty, and was ready to go. He even got character signatures just like he does at plays. Chicken is more subtle and looks forward to the magic show every year. And the melon. Always the melon.

I don’t know how much longer Chicken will want to do it- I think she is getting close to the upper age that would find it interesting. But as long as they still think it’s fun, we will keep going. It has become a family holiday tradition that we all look forward to for the whole year.

The good: fun, unique, great holiday tradition, snacks and Cinnamon Bear photo are included, the magic show is pretty funny

The not great: For a large family it can get rather expensive, certain dates can be rather crowded

The cruises usually start around Thanksgiving and run until around Christmas time. You can find more information and buy tickets on their website: http://cinnamonbearcruise.com/

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Adventure Box, Fun Gift Ideas, Holiday

Adventure Box- Christmas Done Differently

Does anyone else get tired of the piles of toys that never get played with? Tired of putting toys away or nagging the kiddos to do it themselves? I do. Chicken and Nugget each have a handful of favorite toys they play with a lot- soccer balls, drums, and a couple special stuffed animals for Nugget and Legos and figurines for Chicken. Other than that, they really aren’t “toy kids.” Which makes me very happy. And yet, the masses of stuff continue to accrue.

So this year I am taking a risk and doing Christmas differently. They will each have a couple of presents under the tree- a Lego set and special book for Chicken, and a fancy soccer ball and a game for Nugget. Other than that, I am building up an adventure box for each of them.

Adventure box is probably the wrong name. It’s not actually going to be in a box. But I don’t know what else to call it. Ideas? The general idea is that each month, I will surprise the kids with a fun activity or day trip.

I bought a metal winter themed mailbox from from a local craft store when it was 70% off, and it’s already in our living room to get the kids used to seeing it there so they won’t be overly curious and ruin any upcoming surprises. I also got small decorative gift bags- the solid paper kind, not the see through plastic ones, that are about 3.5 inches wide and 6.75 inches long. I got editable “Christmas coupons” off of Etsy- there are a wide variety of designs and coupon ideas on that sight. Then I started making a list of ideas.

The development of the idea list has been a lot of fun! Of course, since I am planning for a whole year, it will be a work in progress. But it has been a fun excuse to look into upcoming events in our area. The idea is that once a month, I will tell them to go look in the mailbox in our living room. Inside, they will find one of the treat bags. I put gift tags on their bags with their names on them. Inside the envelope, they will find a “ticket” or “coupon” for some fun activity we will be doing.

I have a letter prepared for them that will be inside the mailbox on Christmas along with their first envelope. It explains the idea and lays out the parameters- how often, when, that sometimes they will do the same thing, sometimes different things, some months will be something big, something small, etc.

Examples of things that I have planned include movie dates for movies I know they will want to see, train rides, rail riding, breakfast at a fun local restaurant they haven’t been to followed by mini golf, bowling, tea parties, tickets to a local sports game, a day trip to the mountain, holiday and cultural events, a day trip with their grandpa, things like that.

I have a few pros I am using to justify this idea in my head. It means less stuff to deal with! Yay! As a mom, I love the idea of getting to build all of these memories with the kids. I know they are definitely more meaningful to me as a mom than a pile of toys, and I hope to the kids will view it that way as well, especially as they get older. Financially, I will be able to buy tickets for things as time gets closer. While I have a feeling I will wind up spending more than I would have on pure toys, I will be able to spread the cost out over the course of the year with less impact just at the holiday time. Another bonus is that I can count things we would likely have done anyway as Christmas presents and now it is more exciting because they get to look in the mailbox and open a cute envelope with their name on it. I mean, let’s be honest. We are going to Mary Poppins Returns no matter what. But now it’s a Christmas present! Now they’ll probably get popcorn out of the deal, so it’s a win win!

I acknowledge a few cons. It’s going to take a lot of planning. But I am nothing if not a planner, so I’m ok with that. They may not like it. I have a feeling they will, but you never know. And they way I plan on doing it could get costly, even though the cost will get spread out. But since it is all surprises, I can change my plans as needed for any reason, and the kids will never know.

I think this concept has the potential to work for a lot of scenarios- birthdays, Hanukkah, Easter, ect. It could also be modified to meet the needs or interests of any family. Don’t want to commit to planning for a whole year? Do it for a couple of months. Or pick a handful of activities and tell your kids about all of them on Christmas Eve/Day. Worried they will miss getting toys? Incorporate a toy or gift card as the surprise for some of the months. Or give a small gift card to different places they like each month. Worried about the cost? Simplify things. Go for ice cream, give a coupon for them to pick a movie to rent, make one of the surprises an afternoon of baking cookies with you. There are endless ways you could tweak this, and I might wind up making changes along the way based on how Chicken and Nugget are responding.

I have hopes they will think this is a great idea. They love going and doing things. They have asked for tickets to a local holiday event (more on that in a separate upcoming post)as their only gift from their grandpa for the last four years. Or this could be a total dud. You could read a future posts from me, head hanging in shame, telling you to never, ever, do this. But I sure hope not!

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas about this, especially if you ever implement something similar with your family!