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.