Monday, April 22, 2013

The Toy Place at Bellevue Art and Frame

13131 NE 20th St. Bellevue, WA 98005
800 843-6348
Monday through Saturday 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM Sunday 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM

Overall grade: A
High Points: art classes for two and up, tons of toys to demo, complimentary coffee, clean restrooms, helpful staff
Low Points: small children's book section, adult merchandise accessible to small hands, does not carry some of the low-brow staples (crayola crayons for example)

     Have you been to The Toy Place yet?  I am guessing probably not.  It is tucked in a strip with all these tile stores and insurance places, so I would guess it does not attract many people's attention, but it should definitely be your next outing with your little one.
     I love going to independent toy stores.  Granted, I understand that once kids hit a certain age going to a toy store is pretty much like going to the everybody-have-a-temper-tantrum room, but Amani and I are not there yet, so independent toy stores are a excellent way to mix up our regular routine.  (Please note: I say independent toy stores.  Huge corporate toy stores can be useful for an in and out trip, but generally they are notably un-fun, and often can overwhelm me to the point of nausea, so I just avoid them.)
     But The Toy Place is so much more than a just a toy store. Not only does it have THREE TRAIN TABLES AND A TODDLER TRAMPOLINE AND A DOLLHOUSE for kids to play with, (I know, you are already putting on your shoes to go there, right?) but they have FREE drop in art classes on Fridays for children two and up.  Joined with Bellevue Art and Frame, the place has all kinds of art classes for kids and adults, and Lego Wednesdays once a month, and they host birthday parties, so when I say it is more than a toy store, I am not just using a clever turn of phrase: the place is like a big creativity bath.
     Or, if your child is like mine, surrounded by all this creativity and opportunity for expression, as well as just killer-amazing toys right at his or her disposal, your child can spend nearly the entire hour-and-a-half venture spinning on the toddler-sized office chair.  So it has that going for it as well.

Monday, April 1, 2013

St. Edwards Park

14445 Juanita Dr NE, Kenmore, WA 98028
(425) 823-2992
High Points:  Lots of infant/toddler swings and toddler safe equipment, lots of open space, hiking trails, clean restrooms, beautiful views.
Low Points:  $10 for parking if you don't have a Discovery pass ($30 a year), little ones get pretty dirty between the mulch and the sandbox.

     We are so lucky to have had a beautiful past few days here in Seattle, which has given us the opportunity to visit pretty much every playground within a five mile radius.  However, taking Amani to the playground is like being in training for the circus, what with all the lifting, balancing and juggling.  That's when I noticed one of these babies:
     Ah.  Yup, that actually clarifies things quite a bit.  These signs are pretty much on every playground nowadays, giving insight into why the broad majority of playgrounds seem to require a fair number of death defying acts.  The slides seem too big for her because they are too big for her.  The gaps between the steps: yes, in fact, they are dangerous for a child who doesn't know how to use steps.  There are a limited number of baby swings because, well, most playgrounds aren't really made for babies.
     Toddler parks to the rescue!  There are a few toddler parks in the area that are specially made for children four and under, but the nicest, one hands down, is the playground at St. Edwards Park.  
     The playground at St. Edward Park is on the grounds of a former seminary that overlooks Lake Washington.  The people who built this playground really knew what they were doing.   There is a plaque claiming that it was designed by "the community" but I don't entirely buy that.  No community project has ever been this well designed or beautiful.  Made of wood, which is somehow splinter-free, the whole area is decorated with colorful nature imagery that makes you feel like you are in some kind of magical woodland castle.  Seriously, the central tree house in the big kids play area actually made Amani scream in delight.  I mean- she does that all the time, but I think this park probably makes MOST kids scream in delight.  It is pretty awesome.  The toddler area is wondrous as well; it includes a sandbox, lots of toddler swings, and a bouncing bridge, and a various other half-sized fixtures.  Plus, brilliantly, the toddler space is completely fenced, and separate from the playground for the older kids, so there isn't the constant fear of some rambunctious nine-year-old trampling my child while playing tag.  My favorite: No heaving a 25-pound, mulch-covered toddler over the edge of the slide 75 times in a row.  There are stairs any tot can manage that lead up to a short and not-too-steep slide.  Hooray!
This park is huge, around 360 acres, with hiking trails and open space, and supposedly swimming access, though I have not gotten to that area yet.  I would definitely plan to stay for at least a couple of hours, perhaps with a lunch if you have the time, because there is a lot of fun opportunity here and your little one is going to want to explore all the options before they go home.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Park at Bothell Landing

9919 NE 180thh Street, Bothell 98011

Overall:  A
High Points:  Close to Sammamish River Trail, great views, lots of wildlife, beautiful buildings, walking distance to amenities,
Low Points:  Playground very close to parking lot, construction, two toddler/infant swings, can be crowded

     There are a lot of really nice parks on the Eastside, but there is something so charming about Bothell Landing it is almost silly.  To start with it is located super close to Bothell 's picturesque Main Street, so if you wanted to stroll over with a pastry from the bakery or a book from the library, you totally could; it is completely stroller-in-one-hand-coffee-in-the-other manageable.  Once you get to the park, you will see these colorful historic buildings and old iron school bell, plus a little gazebo, and you will be like, "Wait, is this like...a Norman Rockwell painting?"

     Yes, it pretty much is because you haven't even seen the winding river yet, complete with friendly ducks, geese and the occasional heron.  Mostly the river is inaccessible from the park except for a small sand beach where kayakers and canoers can push their boats into the water.
     The playground itself is nothing particularly special, but still fun.  There is a small plaque letting people know that it was designed for children five to twelve years, so if you have a little one, it is a good idea to keep an eye on them.  That said, Amani loves to go down the slide (with help of course), use the baby swing, and play peak-a-boo in a small pirate-shippy area.

    The only un-picturesque element of the whole Bothell Landing experience is the construction that is going on right across the street.  They are actually expanding the park and developing the whole downtown, with shopping and cafes and little pedestrian areas.  As if the whole darn place weren't cute enough.  All the development is supposed to be wrapping up in 2014, when you very may find me moving into one of the residential areas downtown.  Yeah, not even kidding; it is that cute.

Protip: If you go over the arched bridge to the Sammamish River Trail and walk to the right about a quarter of a mile, you can see where beavers have chewed downs trees and dragged them  into the river to build their dam.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Boomerang Kids

11634 98th Ave NE, Kirkland, WA 98034
Mon-Friday 10-6, Saturday 11-4, Closed Sunday

Overall: A+
High Points:  Inexpensive- even for a consignment store, SUPER clean, well organized, lots of toys to amuse the kids while you shop, dressing rooms, clean bathroom.
Low Points:  I am having a hard tie thinking of any!  They could...offer free massages?

     It does not make sense to buy Amani new clothes; it just doesn't.  I mean, if she doesn't poo-splode all over them, or get food stains down the front, then they will most likely be too small for her before we have walked from her bedroom into the kitchen.  Fortunately, until the time when it becomes appropriate to simply wrap your child in paper towels, there is always buying second hand.
     Now, granted, I know there are a lot of very gross and/or scary thrift shops and consignment stores out there, but luckily I have found a few that are just lovely: clean, well-organized, and well priced.  Can't ask for more than that, right?  Well, I guess I can because two of my favorite shops are right by my house.
     My favorite-favorite consignment store is Boomerang Kids, which opened just under a year ago near Juanita Beach Park.  This is hands-down the cleanest, most organized, most kid-friendly second-hand store I have ever been in.  Like, I let Amani crawl around on the floor and play with the toys; it is that clean.  And what's fantastic is that crawling around on the floor and playing is actually encouraged!  There are toys on display- push toys, a kitchen set, and those little activity cubes- all out so that moms can sort through the merchandise without having to keep little ones entertained simultaneously.  It is so freeing to walk in, plop Amani down, and just walk away for a few seconds while I browse or chat with the store owner, Shannon.  Seriously, every children's store should be like this.
     The merchandise is super cute and clean as well.  There are rack of clothes for ages from newborn to size 16, toys, books, baby gear, a "never used section", and a wall of handmade merchandise created by local moms.  Best of all, thanks partly to Shannon's super sweet demeanor and partly to the toys on the floor, the whole place has this friendly, "we're all mom's here" kinda community feeling that makes this not just a place where I come to shop with intention, but a place where I can chill out for a few minutes while browsing. The next time you and your little one need to just get out and have been thinking that you really need new footie PJs anyway, this honestly should be your first stop.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Barnes and Noble

Various Locations  (We like the one in Woodinville) 18025 Garden Way N.E., Woodinville, WA

Admission: N/A   Ages: 18 mos.+  Hours:  Sun-Sat 9am-10pm
Food: C  Cleanliness: A   Chaos Level: A   Maintenance Level: C-  Diaper Station: Yes

     Minor national holidays, like Presidents Day or Memorial Day, are awesome if you get the day off work or love to shop, but as a new stay-at-home-mom, I find them kind of awkward.  None of our regular activities are running; the library and the community centers are closed, and all the other you-can-safely-take-your-kid-here places usually over-run with parents who have the day off and want to take the kids out somewhere special.
     That's why I love Barnes and Noble.  Because it is not marketed strictly to parents, people don't usually think to hang out there with kids, but the place is a goldmine.  Granted, it's not the library, so I do get a few sideways glances from people while trying to keep Amani from chewing on the books, but it's the BARGAIN section for crying out loud.  I think if you are going to buy an entire compendium of ancient gods for the low, low price of $5.99, teeth marked pages are just part of the deal.
     Barnes and Noble has a lot of really great things going for it that make it a great kid-friendly hang out.  First and foremost is the kids' books section which is usually located  somewhat apart from the other portion of the store so you don't interrupt too many child-free patrons.  Obviously they have all types of Children's books, including ones that the library usually skips, like the touch-and-learn kind, or the kind that make noise, but you can also find book themed stuffed animals, toys, and games.  Plus, it is staffed by easily amused older women who don't mind toddlers pulling out and trampling on the merchandise.  If you're lucky, you may even wander in during story time.  Actually, if you are the type of mom that does the whole scheduling thing, you can probably just check the store's website to find out when story-time is.  Being generally schedule deficient, Amani and I tend to free-form, which works as well.

     Curiously located outside the children's book section is the toy and game section, with a Lego table, hand puppets, and shelves of high quality toys; think Melissa and Doug/Leap Pad kinda stuff.  It's actually a small wonder that anyone visits any other section at all, what with all the fun toys right in the middle of the store.
And of course, in just about every Barnes and Noble there is a Barnes and Nobel Cafe, which offer high chairs, baby friendly ala carte items, and cinnamon scones which, when enjoyed with a coffee is honestly reason enough to make the trip.
Pro tip:  In the Barnes and Noble in Woodinville there is both a train table and a little stage in the children's section.
I know!  How this place not crawling with yoga-pants wearing, messy-bunned stay at home moms is beyond me, but hipsters had better get used to teeth-marked pages, because it is just a matter of time.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Indoor Playground at North Kirkland Community Center

12421 103 Ave. Kirkland Washington      (425) 587-5530

Admission:  $3     Ages: 1-5   Hours:  Tuesday 10-1, Wednesday: 11-2, Thursday 10-1
Food: Bring your own    Cleanliness: A     Chaos Level: C  Maintenance Level: B  
Diaper Change Station: Yes

     One of the great places to play in Kirkland when the weather outside is yucky is the indoor playground at the North Kirkland Community Center.  Amani loves this place because all the fun wheeled and push toys that we don't have room for in our house, and lots of kids to frighten with her excited screeching.  (I don't know why she believes that shuffling up to children on your knees while emitting ear-piercing shriek is a good way to make friends, but she seems to be under that impression.)  It is actually a good place to discover and test out some of those large expensive toys that would make nice big purchases for special occasions: rocking horses, tricycles, play kitchens, etc.
     The highlights for me: its cheap, super clean, and semi-low maintenance.  Granted, because Amani is small, and not a strong walker, I do need to stay close by so she doesn't get run over by a little Tykes car, but there is a lot of room and most moms and children are careful to watch out for others, so it is not as hands on as a jungle gym or the grocery store.  Even if your kids are older, don't expect to go there and get work done.  The parent amenities include plastic chairs...and that's it.  No coffee, no WiFi  no tables.  Plenty of parents sit on the edges of room chatting or on their phones, but this is more of a "be part of the community" kind of vibe than a "keep the kids out of my hair while I get stuff done" kind of place.  Which for me is great: I love meeting other parents, and as a housewife, I don't have a lot of paper work to complete.
The downside major definitely has to be the hours: they are super brief and irregular.  Also, it can get noisy, but what are you going to do; its an indoor playground, not a library, right?
    Overall, this is a great place to come and hang out for about an hour.  Because it can get a little noisy and chaotic, and there is no food allowed inside, it is not a place you can spend the day- obviously, I mean it is only open for three hours- but it is a staple in our weekly outings.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Bedtime Stories: The Invention of Kisses

  A long, long time ago, the Earth was a very bleak place, because there was no passion.  Everything was gray and bland.  The land was covered in dry, spiked grasses and short gnarled trees.  The dark beige waves sloshed against dull cold, sand.  The only thing that had any emotion at all across the whole world, was the damp wind, that tormented the listless dark trees, and chilled the melancholy people. The people of the Earth were a quiet people, who lived in dreary tents, that drooped and sagged as if they didn't have the energy to hold themselves out properly.  No one had ever heard of song, or play, or imagination, so while the people of the Earth were good people who were strong and loyal, they were often sad, because they had nothing to look forward to.
     Among these people lived a little girl named Amani.  She had large grey eyes, and reddish hair, and her eyebrows were always poised high on her forehead, as though something of importance might happen at any moment.  Although the people of her village enjoyed the little girl very much, for she was very sweet, and hard working, many of the people who knew her regarded her as strange.  She certainly did have a very peculiar quality, which was unheard of among their people.  She seemed to have an intense interest in everything around her.  She often wandered far from home to study the sharp blades of grass, and spent hours watching the tide slop against the muddy shores.  She would ask question upon question about the things she had seen and no one could tell her the answers, because no one had really cared to find out until then.
    One day, while Amani was off studying the bone-colored grasses that lined the sandy dunes a ways from her home, she heard a pathetic cry coming from just at the foot of a smallish dune in front of her.  As was her nature, she instantly became interested. Her grey brown eyes widened, and her eyebrows raised even higher on her forehead.  She quickened her pace, not wanting to miss the opportunity to study whatever it was that was huddled at the foot of the dune.
     As Amani neared the small dune, she saw what seemed to be a small animal struggling weakly to unwrap itself from a piece of torn sail.  Amani was excited, for she was certain that she had never head any animal make this noise before and she was eager to discover what kind of new animal it might be.  Once she had reached the small twist of cloth, however, she realized that it wasn't a new animal at all, but a very small, very weak baby, who was shivering and calling out more sadly and as pitifully than anything Amani had ever heard. The poor little baby's cheeks were a pale shade of grey blue and stood in contrast to his thick shaggy wet black hair and his tiny purple lips which trembled vigorously.
     Terrified for the poor suffering little baby, Amani quickly scooped him up in her arms and rubbed him rapidly with her hands, hoping to warm him.  His skin was damp and chilled, and Amani could see that his eyes had a far away look of despair.  She was too far from home to call for help, and she feared he might die at any moment.  She unwrapped the wet cloth and wrapped him in the rough black cape she had draped around her shoulders, but still the baby trembled, and his cries became weaker and weaker.  Not knowing what else to do, Amani tucked the baby inside her shirt, where he could hear he heart and collect some of her warmth, and then she set out to make a small fire out of dune grass.
But the grass was not very good for fires, and there were no shrub nearby to help the fire grow, so the fire remained a small, and a bit cold.
     Amani was so sad, as she laid the baby next to the fire, hoping that even the small heat that the embers made might help him.  Tears began to trickle down her face as the baby weakly cried and shivered.
     Not knowing what else to do, Amani began to speak to the fire, begging it to grow, and to help her save the life of this lost little baby.
     The fire heard Amani, and though it was also weak, it drew strength from this determined little girl who so wanted to help another person. It grew stronger and stronger, until it cracked and popped, blazing so warmly that Amani had to stand back from its fiery tongues.
     The little girl was amazed at the fire, and so happy that it was willing to help her save the little baby, but the baby did not seem to be getting better.  His face remained pale and blue, and his little body shook as if chilled to the bone.
     Amani did not know what else to do, so she asked the fire to tell her if anything else could be done, or if the baby would surely die.
     The fire took pity again on the little girl and the baby she seemed to care so much about, and so it decided to give her one of the greatest talents a fire had to warm the earth: kisses.  The fire showed Amani how to kiss the baby just as the fire kissed the cloudy, bland sky and warmed the cold sea air.
Amani leaned over, collected the baby into her arms and kissed him gently on his forehead.  Instantly the baby seemed calmer, and his breathing seemed to grow peaceful.  Again she kissed him, and a faint shade of pink began to glow in his cheeks.  As she kept kissing him, on his face and arms and hands and toes, the baby first began to relax and then began to smile, and finally began to laugh, a loud musical laugh, that echoed off the sandy grey dunes and bounced across the muddy shores.  The kisses and the laughter tumbled down and away from the two giggling children, and it seemed to bounce across the land.  The grass began to soften and sway.  The ocean began to frolic and splash.  The sky and clouds brightened to see such happiness.  And soon the happy noise spread to village, where the people also began to grin and laugh, for reasons they could not first explain.
     Once Amani was sure that the baby was fully warmed, she carried him back to village, told her parents the story of the lost little child.  Everyone was amazed at Amani's good heart and clear thinking.  Most of all they were delighted to learn the wonderful talent that the fire had taught Amani, and they immediately began practicing on each other, bringing each and every person in town to delighted fits of giggles.
     From that day forward, the world was not a dull and melancholy place, for the fire had given it kisses and passion.  And it was all thanks to one very curious and brave little girl.