Avoiding the Giant Giraffe

by Stefani on 12-August-2007

We had a birthday party to attend on Saturday, and another coming up today (Monday). Which, for my kids, means days of eager anticipation.

There will be sugar, loads and loads of sugar! There will be balloons! There might be games, swimming or even a pinata. And the crowing glory, there will be goody bags. Oh happy day!

To my ears though, the words “birthday party” sound like “gifting stress”. I love kids. I love toys. I love kids who love toys. I love buying toys for kids, who I love, who love toys.

I do NOT, however, love toy stores. At least not the mind-numbing, over-stimulating, battery-powered ones that feature oddities like giant giraffes walking the aisles scaring the spit out of small children, and three story germ-fests they refer to as “fun parks.”

The toy stores that I do love, would invariably lead to bankruptcy if I darkend their doors. They are full to the brim of lovely toys made of real wood and cloth, that require real thought and imagination but also (perhaps rightfully) require a small fortune to cross the counter.

It is HARD to find gifts that thrill the kid, please the parent, don’t cost a mint and are just fun to give. We have, in the past, gotten favorite books to share, magic tricks, craft supplies, puzzles and board games. We also like to visit the educational supply store for science experiment kits. What are your favorite birthday party gifts?

The first party of the weekend, was for a little girl turning 5. For her, we settled on The Little Island, by Margaret Wise Brown, and a gloriously soft little black, stuffed kitten that shows up in the story. I had to wrench it out of Ryder’s hands though, amid indignant tears and curses. He wanted that kitty, BADLY, poor boy!

The boys also made the birthday girl a lovely shell mobile that went along with the theme of the story too.

One gift down, one to go.

We love our cousin Jacob, a LOT, and he turns 5 Monday, a major milestone, as you know. So, the boys wanted to make him something really special. They decided on their latest favorite toy, the rubberband gun.

They sawed:


They glued and nailed. They painted:


They came up with this:


If you should find yourself feeling covetous right now (admit it, you want one), you can visit our tutorial, over on the side bar for a close up look at the gun-making process. Be warned, some of the photos are pretty blurry. My guys have no patience for the photographer.

In the end, we felt that something was lacking.


Maybe some scary alien creatures at which to shoot?



The boys drew them on Shrinky Dink paper, and then we shrinky dank in the oven. Once cooled, we popped on a couple of clothespin feet, and voila, knock-downable targets! (It’s a word if I say it is)

It didn’t take my little men long to discover that the aliens can be stacked. This way, when you hit them, you get a very pleasing, massive crash 🙂


We had to do a great deal of product testing, of course. The designers also felt it necessary for me to redraw each moster on paper, and then write his profile, including name, points earned by knocking him down, and his secret power. My favorite was “Bug Attack” who “shoots icky goo out of his ears.”

Giant giraffe and his mindless wares successfully avoided, once more.

miguette August 12, 2007 at 9:00 pm

hee hee…..”shrinky dank” I love that!

Natasha August 12, 2007 at 9:02 pm

Great gift, I can’t wait to show it to my boys in the morning…I can smell the sawdust already.

The shrunk aliens are a great touch.

Sarah Jackson August 12, 2007 at 9:27 pm

That is truly fantastic. He will be one very happy little boy. Have you made alien targets for home yet?

Our favorite gifts are homemade tote bags (surprise!) with art supplies in them – a few crayons or markers, a homemade-ish coloring book, stickers. maybe a paper punch. We also trust in Lego, Playmobil people – a few of the people or a small set like the chicken coop. We have fun iron-ons from Liquid Paper (http://liquidpaper.typepad.com) of ninjas and turtles for making tshirts. I have also used those as the party favors instead of a goody bag. I’ve been known to knit a snake or two as a birthday gift for very special children.

Looking forward to other people’s ideas. We have 9 adult birthdays coming up. Any creative homemade ideas for them?

Leigh-Ann August 12, 2007 at 10:16 pm

this would have to be the BEST gift ever!!!! i love their imaginations!!! don’t take that for granted; a lot of kids don’t have them b/c of over stimulation and they’re not “cultivated” (i’m trying to use big words like you). but seriously, i LOVE the gift they made Jacob! SO cool!! and the express on little ones face (in your flickr) as he saws, priceless moment! when i have kids and their party world. i’m gonna look for stuff on etsy. cause even though shipping is an extra cost, a lot of items are REALLY well priced, and i love their uniqueness and supporting indie arts. adults should have parties with goodie bags and cupcakes with coins in them and hats, and pinatas and toys. i’m gonna have a party like that! for me or tyson! that’d be fun! maybe a costume party! YES! (can we tell i need kids!?) is this turning into a guest blog post? lol

Ellie August 13, 2007 at 4:54 am

Your boys should go into game production – that is one ‘tricky’ looking present. I can see it winning toy of the year, and being sold at those beautiful toy shops we all love. Books are always a favourite for me to give (and hopeful to receive – yet I’m fussy about the illustrations + stories!). I really like the way you added a cat toy to the (lovely looking) cat book.
I’ve been giving (handmade) bags and books as presents lately – for kids and adults. Kid drawings and paintings always make the best cards + wrapping paper. I only buy greeting cards to keep for myself.

kirsten August 13, 2007 at 6:27 am

wow – what thoughtful gifts! love the targets. i have mixed toy ‘issues’ as well. at my daughter’s last bday my fave gift she received was a bottle box filled with art supplies. I think most of the supplies had even come in a kit, the givers just separated them to put them in the box. looked cool, came with a storage box, and has come in handy many times!

leslie August 13, 2007 at 7:27 am

we did the teacher supply store this weekend too, to purchase a gift for someone and get stuff for day camp. what do you know? we pick the exact same book, and got one for ourselves too?

mountain mama August 13, 2007 at 7:35 am

Wow!! Those are some great and thoughtful gifts!! Like you, I get tired of all the electronic beeping toys and my girls get tired of them rather quickly. They steal away the child’s imagination and there is only so much you can do with it anyway.

Their favorite gifts are the crafting kind– wooden bead necklace kits, finger-painting art supplies, and of course the markers and paper. I have a shrinky dink set that I think the girls are ready to work with now.

As for adults, I always make extra canned goodness and give those out as gifts. Jams, relishes, tomatoes to name a few.. I like Sarah Jackson’s idea for making tote bags for the goodies.. I think I’ll use that idea for the next party I host/attend.

TumTum August 13, 2007 at 9:42 am

I love the Hearthsong catalog, and always did when I was a little. I picked one up at my mama’s house this weekend, and I am afraid it was not the same…But dang they used to have the best faery books and kits. Not to mention all the other wonderful things. Have you seen the wooden play food they have at Target right now??? I am sure there is someone out there who’s idea it was originally, but dang! That play food is well..glorious!

brit August 13, 2007 at 10:23 am

Dude. You totally stole my post for this week, about the handmade birthday gifts I’m making. ( I had to put if off because the mom reads my blog)

I’m totally posting it anyway..

I love those toys stores too. Although like Tum Tum I have to satisfy my urges with the Target play wonder toys, much more in my budget!

Handmade gifts, though they are the best.

erin August 13, 2007 at 5:32 pm

oh, i had a rubber band gun when i was a kid!

we give art supplies and craft kits as gifts. i make applique t-shirts, too. jane is getting to the point where she can draw the image and i just do the sewing – fun for all!

michelle August 15, 2007 at 6:08 am

What a great idea with the shrinky dink guys. My son would love this–we are going to have to try this.

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