Now that summer is almost over and I have hardly kept up with the blog, I decided to start a list of all the things worth discussing!   But before I start with that, I thought I should mention that every summer we as a staff have a celebration/work party/outing.  In the past it  has been things like backyard barbecues, Trenton Thunder games, a Delaware River barge party, miniature golf, park picnics with lots of  toys… Nothing like what we did this year, though.  This year it was  a week at the beach–after winning a very large national window display contest, we followed up on our promise of a week at the Jersey Shore!  All from the store were invited down in shifts–we rented a very large house with lots of room so we did not have to get too cozy… Not everybody showed up but for those who did, it was a fun time!

Although I can’t say I would do this again since not everybody could make it, it sure was a great way to really get to know the families and staff we all work with every day. We all seem to have similar beliefs, values, ideals, and most of us even root for the same baseball team! What I realized the most from hanging out with these folks is that we are and continue to be a very PLAYFUL group. Everyone was always playing, whether it was doing a New York Times crossword or throwing a frisbee or playing a card game… someone was always playing. I mean adults too. The children played nonstop but the adults–moms… dads… twenty-somethings… teens… tweens–all were playing all the time!

This group that works at the store, I realize more now than ever, is enjoying life. We are having fun doing what we do. More now than ever I realize that we don’t sell toys, we sell fun… More now than ever I realize that we are rushing our children to grow old before they are ready… More now than ever I realize how important it is to let our little people enjoy the dreaminess that comes with childhood…the innocence…the trust…the magic that is childhood.

Every day I ask myself why we are rushing them through this beautiful process… For what? And at what cost? Why rush the learning? Why rush the reality of what is to come? Does it really help in the long run? You are a child only once, and not for very long in the scheme of things. My fondest memories are from my childhood–memories of swinging, swimming, playing, my friends, my family, on and on. But still we think our children are done being children at age ten, twelve, fourteen? Are they really done or is it just a process? My most vivid memories are my preteen and teen years, and they too were filled with laughter, playing, reading–silly books, picture books, poetry by Shel Silverstein–sledding with friends, playing cards in the one air conditioned room in our very hot house! Juggling, learning to do a pogo stick, stilts, kickball and kick the can…

Are our children really growing up faster or are we rushing our children to grow up? After being with this group, I feel the latter is true for a lot of our society and this makes me sad and concerned. Concerned for our future and for our children. Sad that life for our little people is not filled with more play, more silliness, more spontaneity, less structured time and on and on… I will continue to write about this subject at length as I continue this blog…

It is already almost August… and I have not been as good as I had hoped at keeping up with the blog.  Part of it is that I have no idea if anyone is reading this, and part of it is–it is summer,  and doesn’t that mean no school…no work…no homework?  In a perfect world that would be true, but in my world there is always a little homework.

Lately I have found myself having this conversation with parents about whether they love spending the summer with their children 24/7, or prefer they disappear for long periods to day camp or better yet sleep-away camps.  I am definitely in the group who wishes summer with my son Felix would go on and on forever.  Don’t get me wrong, I like some time by myself, but I love not having a schedule… I love our lazy mornings…whole afternoons reading…our extended walks…taking our time cooking together…lots of water play…no hard bedtime…lots of popsicles… Time seems to have slowed down.  I am not always feeling rushed and together we have less meltdowns, and just more laughs.  Most people probably think this is because I have only one young child (believe me, I tried for a dozen, it just wasn’t meant to be) but I really think it is because I just love summer and what summer represents.  A thirteen year old summed it up perfectly for me… She said the perfect summer is when you don’t know what day of the week it is–Monday or maybe Friday, who knows and who cares!

So depending on whether you need to send toys away to your little campers or are camping in the backyard with your little ones, we have the perfect something! Here are some ideas (also on the Featured Products page):

This week I am writing from the Jersey Shore, where I am spending a week with my extended family and friends. We are playing, swimming, and eating–lots of eating!  We did the classic boardwalk night–everyone took in their fill of ice cream, french fries, rides and skeeball. Today it rained but the children set up a nail salon (thanks to my niece and her massive bag of nail polish) and we all had our nails done…dads, moms, boys and girls!  Let’s hope we don’t have a lot more of these rainy afternoons as there isn’t an unpainted nail left.

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Following are some of my picks for fun at the beach:

OgoSport
These springy orange and blue discs are great. You can use them as frisbees or their inner mesh as big paddles to hit balls back and forth. We have two sets, two different sizes and multiple balls, just in case we lose any.  They float & fly and young and old can play together. There are not many toys that a four, fourteen, and seventeen year old, and me can all play together…and have fun–it is just so fun!  My four-year-old son keeps coming up with new ways to play with them–he recently discovered  they roll down hills!

Haba Bucket with Spigot
This is not your ordinary bucket. It has traveled to Puerto Rico and Malta with us on vacation and now we have it here.  It collapses to fit easily into a beach bag and it has this incredible spigot that keeps a slow and steady stream coming out when you turn it on.   My son never goes to the beach without it and all the other children line up to play with it!

Gelateria Set
Nothing is more fun than building castles in the sand, unless you have a scoop and an ice cream cone!  There is something about this sand mold that my child and all his cousins love…Vanilla, Chocolate, Strawberry–in my case Coffee–I have tried them all. And oh so delicious are those mini scoops of sand.

Frisbee
I thought we had too many choices of flying discs in the store upon last inspection. That was before I showed up at our beach house. Each small grouping of our family came with a different kind of Frisbee, and with an argument as to why theirs was the best. When I look at the selection here I see now that you can never have too many choices.

Invisible Cards
Everyone can play–together or alone!  Rummy, Spoons, and Solitare. Who doesn’t love playing cards at the beach?  These cards are clear hard plastic and they appeal to all ages.

Playmobil Zoo Jeep
So we picked one new toy for our two weeks here and Felix has been playing with this toy every day.  Today, all the cousins visiting played with it too.  The animals were sick so they took them to my sister (our resident physician) for remedies to make them better…The Giraffe was hungry and ate a lot…They went for a drive…Very, very busy–our children played with these little pieces for hours.  Felix tells stories using all the people and animals. He will act out an entire day with the miniature world of Playmobil.  I anticipate there will be a lot of this toy in my future!

Well it’s just past midnight, and everyone in my family has gone to sleep after a long night at our Block Party.  I on the other hand imbibed a double cappuccino beverage at about 7:00 pm to get me through the evening and am wide awake! What a party! We survived the storms for a clear, cool, beautiful evening.  How about tonight…wheel of chance…lollipop tree…cake walk…Wage visiting…cardboard village…great music…Uglydoll archery…Channel 12 News…facepainting…hair painting…Mona Lisa with no smile…circus school…outdoor movie…delicious food and sweets…not to mention yummy frosty beverages…and on and on… I hope those who came had as much fun as I did, and If you missed it, there is always next year.

This event makes me so proud to be part of a community that really helps one another out.  So many local businesses came together to make this happen.  And of course I am always happy to see so many of our little-people customers picking my pockets and supporting us in the store.  I always say about this party, “It is like throwing a wedding for a couple thousand people with no RSVP”… Not so easy and a little bit stressful, then throw in a rainy weather forecast and forget about it!  But it was a huge success and I just want to say Thank You to all who came and all who participated.   Most impotantly, a big Thank You to our jaZams staff–some of whom have been working on this for more than a month–and for their amazing skills, enthusiasm, creativity, and vision.  And special thanks to Palmer Square–both the ladies in the marketing department and that tireless maintenance staff–for making everything always look beautiful.  Below are some pictures that were taken by a really talented customer that I saw on the street and said, “Can you go find my camera and document the evening”… What a great job she did!  Thank You Nancy!

I certainly hope someone out there is reading this because it’s fun to do and I will always have lots to say.

As we gear up for our Fifteenth Birthday Block Party celebration and think about what it means to be fifteen, I thought maybe this would be a perfect time to select toys (for the Featured page) for your fifteen-year-old children.

My niece, almost 15

As for our upcoming block party:  Alice is constructing buildings out of boxes as I write this. The banner is being painted, Wage (the Uglydoll) is preparing to visit us, prizes are being sorted… paper is being cut for books, and tons more surprises!

Every year since our first we have had a huge celebration for our store, but this one seems extra special as fifteen years is a long time!  And this year’s movie, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, captures the spirit we try to embody in our store. So, to be able to see that on the big screen outside is so exciting.  We first heard of this movie when folks visiting the store started telling us we were like Mr. Magorium. Finally, last year, we rented it.  Of course, Dean was crying (as you read our blog, you’ll find out Dean cries a lot) because he was so flattered that anyone would compare our store to this truly magical place called Mr. Magorium’s.  Well, I hope to see you there.  I will of course be in my hoop skirt for all to pick my pockets.

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This Week’s Featured Products:

Buckyballs
Truly the greatest fidget toy ever made.  It is the one thing that keeps my nephew (Zachary) from getting on the computer, the iPhone or any other electrical component… He loves his set and would love to have multiple sets, maybe different colors?

Shrink Art Jewelry
Are you ever too old to make Shrinky Dinks? The jewelry in this book is sophisticated enough to give to the hippest teen gal. She will delight in her found creativity as she makes these simple and fun jewels.

Waboba
We purchased this incredible ball when Max, my nephew (then 15) requested it at the beach… So of course we found the supplier and now we too sell this amazing ball. Never has a ball been so much fun. It truly bounces, skips, hops and floats on water.

Henna Kit
Although I have yet to get a Henna tattoo, I prefer this temporary body art. This kit produces amazingly beautiful, authentic Henna designs on the skin. The inks are rich in color and totally nontoxic.

Settlers of Catan
This is not the easiest game to learn, but once you have you can’t stop playing. It is a fabulous strategy game where everyone is playing and engaged every turn. I also had beginner’s luck the first couple times I played–I actually beat Billy (our resident game expert at the store) the first real time playing.

Girl, 15, Charming but Insane
Like any self-respecting girl her age, Jess wants to be devastatingly gorgeous, popular, and intelligent. But unfortunately, her best friend, Flora, has beaten her to it. Now Jess needs a new focus. The stunningly gorgeous Ben Jones seems the obvious choice. But can Ben Jones focus on anything that takes longer than a free kick? Perhaps Fred, who’s sweet and clever but really needs a haircut, will help Jess through her teen-life crisis. But what of Flora’s long-held secret crush? With her particular combination of charm and insanity, Jess heroically tries to keep it all together–with hilarious results.

To see more toys and books for 15-year-olds, check out the Teen/Adult section on our website.

So for my second ever post, I thought we should take a moment to look back at the toys from when we first opened our doors fifteen years ago.  As I was reminiscing, I realized a lot of those original favorites are still available today.  Of course all the everyday toys continue to be present like marbles…

…balls…frisbees…jump ropes…paint…and everything you can think of that you grew up with, along with the new and trendy–but today it’s about what we started with in 1996!

Some of my favorites from then are listed below, and on the Featured Products page of the website.  What’s interesting is the same items that appealed to me fifteen years ago still appeal to me today.  I realize it is because they are all classic, aged for many, easy to master and FUN.  We have always described our store as fun, not “educational.”  I personally feel that virtually all toys have educational value (but more on that in an upcoming post). The toys that have most appeal to me are open-ended, most are made of wood, and all have a tremendous amount of playfulness.

It should be of no surprise that not only am I playing with some of the same toys fifteen years later, but I am still reading some of the same stories that were published that first year we opened our doors.  I have always had shelves and shelves of “children’s” titles in my library of books–this continues to be both a passion and a problem as our house is only so big…

Some of my favorite authors from 1996 have continued on a path of greatness. Jon Scieszka published Math Curse in 1996 and is now doing a blog called Guys Read. This is an incredible resource for parents with boys and for boys themselves.  Check out my other favorite titles from then and now, below and on the Featured Products page.

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TOYS:

Skwish by Manhattan:
With a name like Skwish, you know it’s going to be fun.  And as soon as you play with the Skwish you know where the name came from.  This lovely smooth wooden rattle/teether/busytoy mesmerizes babies with bright colors and soft clinking sounds from the wooden beads.  Constructed of elastic strings, wooden rods, and wooden beads, the Skwish is a fascinating toy. I gave this toy to my niece even before I owned the toy store.

A bucket of Skwishes^

Twin Rattle by Ambi:
One of the best infant toys ever!  Nothing is more captivating than the simple sun design, the perpetual motion, the bright contrasting colors, and the gentle rattle.  Although the Twin Rattle was not available in the American market for a while, they are back.  Just the same pure, simple, classic, fun for babies–not to mention their caregivers.  Go ahead and try to put it down!

Blocks by Beka:
As we wrote in our catologue years ago:  The great thing about wooden blocks is that they never go out of style…The great thing about wooden blocks is that they can create things imagined only in your mind…The great things about wooden blocks is that you can build them up, then knock them down…The great thing about wooden blocks is that they never wear out, no matter how much you play with them…The great thing about wooden blocks is everything about them!  Not to mention ours are made by hands of our friends in Minnesota using hard USA maple wood.  These are truly designed and engineered to last until your children pass them on to their grandchildren.

Lawn Mower push toy:
Never has there been a better push toy.  It is just loud enough to keep your toddler happy and not make you crazy.  It has the perfect size handle for little people to grasp, the natural wood is built to last for generations, not to mention it’s beautiful.  I love this as a first birthday gift or for that little one who has just mastered the skill of walking.

Blast Pad by Marky Sparky:
I will start by saying if someone told me I could have only one toy from the store, one toy that I know I would never be able to make, one that I know will be a crowd pleaser for every age,* including the adults, one that is just plain fun, it would have to be the Blast Pad.  It has changed just a little in the last fifteen years but it is mostly the same. And it continues to make children happy.  We have personally owned many over the years and it still accompanies us to barbecues and all outdoor events.

*Blast Pad is recommended for 8 and up although kids as young as 3 have a great deal of fun with this toy under adult supervision (my 4 year old included!).

Marble Whacker:
I recommend this every day that I work–it is the perfect toy for  families with multiple children, one child, no children, grandparents who want the BEST toys at their house, aunts and uncles who need brownie points and on and on.  Everyone loves to play this game.  Think pinball made of wood with only marbles as the pieces–no parts, no batteries, no mess, quick to play, easy to learn, and did I mention Fun!  A must-have for every household.

Tim Flying Bird:
This item is older than fifteen years, but we opened our doors with this as a featured product.  At the time Aaron and Nicholas (my stepchildren) spent a lot of time flying this off our deck.  We spent lots of time throwing and retrieving this amazing flying contraption.  It continues to be one of my favorite flying toys.

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BOOKS:

The Seven Silly Eaters:
This has been in my library since it was first published.  It is a fun take on the challenges of getting children to eat their food!  The story is fabulous and the pictures are remarkable.  You can’t help but love the patience and grace of this mama as she lovingly prepares apple sauce, pink lemonade, warm milk, oatmeal, bread and eggs for all of her seven silly eaters!  From the first page of rollicking rhyme to the brilliant surprise ending, this is by far one of the best books for those little readers.

Math Curse:
True story:  My nephew who loved math (and I think still does?) used to fall asleep with this book in bed with him every night!  It’s that good.  I hated math as a child, as does the young girl in this sweet story.  She likes math so little that she has convinced herself  she is the victim of  a “math curse.” Everything has turned into a math challenge or problem in this case.  Both children who love math and those who don’t will delight in this funny math tale.

Mr. Putter and Tabby:
Cynthia Rylant is hands down one of my favorite authors.  I am not sure I have read anything she has written that I did not enjoy immensely…including this incredible series of early readers.  Not sure who I like more: Mr Putter or Tabby.  I truly just wish they were both a part of my family!  Mr. Putter is one of the most lovable children’s book characters, and that adorable old Tabby cat is just precious.  Both are timeless and continue to appeal to children who are just learning to read today.  Not to mention, you won’t mind reading and re-reading these beginner books.

The Golden Compass:
The first book in the His Dark Materials Trilogy, an incredibly vast and intricate work of fantasy that spans not only worlds but universes! These books are generally classified as Young Adult, but my stepson–who read and loved them at age 25–can attest to their appeal to older readers as well. The books follow a young girl named Lyra on perilous and mind-bending adventures through parallel universes. Beyond Philip Pullman’s knack for writing with stunning visual detail and seemingly endless imagination, he is also a brilliant storyteller; these books are so perfectly paced, multilayered, and even emotionally subtle that they are impossible to put down.


I can’t believe that we are going live with our website exactly fifteen years to the day of when we opened our first store.  Although this was not planned, and like everything we do it needed to be close to perfect before going up (which meant it took a lot longer than expected…), I am comforted by the fact that this must be a good day for us!

Those of you who know me and have read some of my writing know it is not my strong point.  There is lots of editing by friends and family before it ever gets viewed by others!  That being said, I always have lots to say and way too many opinions.  So it only seemed logical to have a spot to speak freely about our world, our children, their play, their environment, their behaviors, their spaces (both inside and out), their work, and of course their toys and books.

Although most of us are not formal child educators or authorities on children, I feel we are truly experts on children and their play.  Children have always been my passion and it is that which brought me into the toy world.  I truly love every age–even those sassy teen years, or the difficult twenties–and if I could have I would have had a dozen of these little people! Collectively we have raised lots of children at our store.  I personally have three children I call my own: Aaron who is now living in Maine and starting up a small farm, Nicholas who I have the luxury of working with everyday, as he is our web and warehouse guy (and we could not have done any of this without him), and Felix who is still small enough to come to work with us.

I went from having never read a blog to reading dozens in the last few months to see what this world was all about.  We decided that we would post something new every week, tied in with the featured product (on our website) from that same week.  We have yet to determine which day it will be but for now we will say Tuesday!  I am guessing lots of you who are reading this already know me, Dean or Felix, or at least our store… But for those who don’t know us personally or who aren’t familiar with the store, I thought I would share some photos of this place we call home: our store and warehouse.  Dean will occasionally be writing on this blog as well–between us we hope to share what we are thinking about, how we are playing, what we’re making, what we are reading.  We hope you will join us in this new venture as we explore our real world through cyberspace!

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Please come in…

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Peaceful morning before the customers are to arrive…

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Our tallest friend…

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And some of our smallest friends in the store…

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Waiting for a push?

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Playing at our warehouse. Bring your children to work day… (everyday!)