Thursday, March 23, 2017

I've Bin Toyin' with You

In the past couple days I went through bins of toys from my kids pre-school and early elementary school years. These toys are appropriate for the ages my grandkids are now. I am preparing to 1) make them accessible when they visit, 2) send some home with them, 3) ship them what they would like, or 4) carry some with me when Frank and I visit. I am not considering donating them just yet - a least not until my grandkids are all older than the age that would enjoy them.

I emptied each bin and photographed its contents allowing myself to enjoy the memories that came flooding back. Many of the toys are the vintage Fisher Price when the Little People® were made of wood with painted on faces as seen in the top row. Then they evolved to plastic, recognizable by the horizontal mold mark on each face. Then the Little People®  evolved to more detailed figurines - less imaginative in my opinion. I do note that even back in the 70'-80's there were Little People® of color and who wore glasses so I propose that political correctness was not a strong driver for the change.

It was probably more of a potential choking hazard issue for children under three. The older toys are about two centimeters in diameter, while the newer ones are about three centimeters wide, as well as being taller and chunkier. But I wish they had kept their classic simplicity. Company logos seem to evolve to less and less detail and more graphic symbolism as the brand grows in fame. Toys seem to to do the opposite, leaving less and less to the imagination. See the IHOP example.

First Bin
The largest items in the first bin were a cottage and a western frontier town store front - probably a saloon but I won't admit to that. The frontier town store front had a crank that when turned made a repeated gun sound and jiggled a little people figure sideways - presumably to simulate a gun fight scene as in the old western movies.

In the same bin were a couple horses and some fencing - ideally to hitch up your horse outside but they could have equally been part of a farming set. The vehicles in the picture are indeed anachronistic for the wild, wild, west days. I put them there because were the right size to fill out the photo.

The other large item in the bin was a cottage. It had a doorbell and garage and a convenient carrying handle. Does that make it a mobile home? Groan...

These are the accessories and people that went with the cottage and western town and with other Fisher Price toys soon to be revealed from within other attic bins. This is like a game of Where's Waldo. Can you find the monkey? How about the ringmaster? I spy a rocking horse and deck chairs from a houseboat. Aha – there is also a barbecue grill next to a baby stroller. Did you find them both?

I finished out with a school bus to haul all those Little People® kids. The headlight eyes move up an down when the wheels turn. There is also a hook and ladder fire engine. It is a different scale, though so maybe it is a Little Tikes creation perhaps? Anyway, moving on to a second bin...

Second Bin
The biggest item in the next bin was a large school house with a bell on the roof to call the kiddos to class. The front had a clock to tell time – analog, not digital.

Packed in with it were Ziploc® bags filled with more Little People® and some accessories to other sets. I laid one bag's worth out on the left to photograph. In the upper left are the cowboys and sheriff and one Native American (Indian) in full headdress that belong with the pioneer town. There are hay bales for jumping on and hiding behind during that shootout in front of the western store front. They could also do double duty on the farm. The remainder of "stuff" on the right was free flowing scatter from the bottom of the bin. "Miscellanea" is a more elegant term than "stuff". Can you find the construction cones? How about the dresser and bookshelf furniture for the cottage? And my favorite... can you find the sewing machine?

A second Ziploc® bag contained rubber toys, shown on the left. I loved these when the kids were little because they were relatively soft, quiet, and just dense enough and sturdy enough to make good teething options. A few random road signs got into the mix somehow. On the right is a great collection of wooden animals and trees, manufactured and distributed by Discovery Toys. They were a great source of sturdy, good quality, teaching toys, sold mainly though in home sales much like Tupperware. They have a website today but I am not as familiar with them today as I once was. You can read about their story at

Another Ziploc® bags was apparently gathered by not by function, but rather by color, yellow and bright green. It contained playground equipment – a merry go round and a swing set – to go with the school house. It contained a toilet and a bathtub for the cottage. It had construction equipment and airport loading equipment. Did you find each of these? On the right is a collection of vehicles and a conveyor belt. The red and green truck is rubber and was great for sand and water play since it does not rust or chip and is quite chewable - without the condiment of sand though, of course. The police snowmobile goes with a rescue collection still to be uncovered in a yet-to-be-sorted bin.

Finally I found this trio of wooden toys. Dan was quite into airplanes and the helicopter and plane were favorites of his. He used to have airplane wallpaper on the wall of his bedroom in our first house. These are going to get relocated to a bin of wooden toys. Or maybe I will leave them out and accessible. They are so cute and they fit perfectly into chubby little hands!

Third Bin
The third bin I sorted was pretty random. I took out the items, photographed those I was keeping and discarded the junk. I redistributed the kept items and actually reduced the number of bins by one! The Little Tikes® nesting animals in the next photo are so stinking cute I kept them out and put them in the bathroom where grandkids get bathed when they visit. Those wooden blocks with the lines are actually the loads that get moved along by the conveyor belt found in the previous bin. The stacking rings I added to other wooden toys.

I pulled out the LEGOs, the musical tools, and redistributed these varied figurines to the sets they accompany – mostly Little Tikes®.

Ok. It's just a plastic pail but it is a sturdy one and has a great strainer/sifter and strong scoop. I added it to the bath toys under the sink. Reconsidering, I think I will move it to the laundry room for soaking and draining. The pegs made their way to the rest of their companions in sets I have downstairs. The grandkids play with these when they visit.

This rubber village set is so tactilely appealing I set it aside to go with Christmas decorations.

Fourth Bin
The next bin was filled with mostly transportation items. The largest items were the jet plane, the house boat and the three-car train. I hope I remember to move that piggy to be with his sheep and cow friends in a previous bin. If not oh, well. There are only three bins of plastic pre-school toys. so he can be easily be mated up eventually.

There were rescue vehicles. Hmm, the front of the firetruck did not show up... yet.

There was more transport vehicles. Note to self: Move the stagecoach and the buckboard to be with the western town. The compass platform goes with the airport. Again, more helicopters – for Dan.

Dan loved this small airplane with its pilots, passengers, and suitcases. The brown piece of luggage is a bit too big for this and goes with the larger Fisher Price plane.

There were four Disney figurines. If my memory serves me correctly, Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy used to ride on the previous airplane.

I think I loved these more than the kids. Do you remember Weebles? The add campaign stated "Weebles wobble, but they don't fall down." Here is a crew from Sesame Street: Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch, Grover, Ernie (of Rubber Duckie fame), Big Bird, and some kid.

It took me four bins to think to photograph them once re-packed. Well better late than never. If I remember to photograph the final toy bin with the wooden toys at least I will have captured 50%. Dang – I forgot to to move that piggy! Do you see him in there?

Final Bin(for now)
The final bin in this portion of the marathon was the one with wooden toys. I took out a plastic basket on the top that contained colored wooden blocks and a set of Bill Dings, balancing clowns. These are more from Frank's era than mine or our kids, but there they were.

They stack and balance like this and other ways as well.

I thought someone with the web site junkmarket style was clever in making this clock to sell.

Below the plastic basket of Bill Dings and blocks were these toys. I was pretty worn out by this time so I decided they could be viewed well enough without being individually unpacked. There was a ring stacking toy and a progressive rod height sphere stacking toy, and a truck. The cart with four blocks on it has wheels that touch those blocks so they spin when the wheels turn. The blocks with cylindrical peg additions are a stylized pre-cursor building toy to DUPLOS and are great for even younger children. Not hardly a unique item, there was also the ubiquitous Fisher Price xylophone. I put the lid back on it all and relegated it back to the attic.

In summary
I went from five bins to four and culled junk from out of them. This is the end of the trail for these classic toys. They are now back in the attic but in a location easily accessible so kids can use them or I can fetch them to ship. They will mellow for a few years until I am sure the present generation no longer wants them. Then what? To be determined... I am inspired by this parody of the serenity prayer from Vinita Hampton Wright, author of  Simple Acts of Moving Forward: A Little Book about Getting Unstuck.

Give me the discipline to get rid of the stuff that is not important,
the freedom to savor the stuff that gives me joy,
and the patience not to worry about
the stuff that's messy but not hurting anybody.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Alex to Beauty and the Beast

This past Sunday March 12th Frank and I took Alex to a local high school performance of the musical Beauty and the Beast. It was held in the neighboring town of Pleasanton and drew from students at Amador Valley High and Foothill High. There was no billboard in the lobby so instead we took our traditional Alex photo by this prop of a Gargoyle with a huge red rose. It was held in the Amador Theatre. I had sung with the Broadway Chorus there several times when I was still active in that choral group.

The program was the standard Playbill with the iconic Disney graphic of Beauty and the Beast. Inside the student actors' names were listed and after each was cited either (F) or (AV). Frank asked me, "What does that mean?" I guessed. "Perhaps Freshman or Advance Vocal according to their music class level...?" A few second later Frank whispers, "Isn't it more likely to mean Foothill or Amador Valley High?" Duh – yeah...

Alex waited patiently for the show to start, enduring with quasi-tolerance my pre-show cell phone pictures. "Oh, mom! Another one?"

Selfies photographers we are not. Frank had the longest arms so he was designated to take the picture proving we all were indeed there. Despite our blurry faces, you can still detect a smile on each of us and that is the point after all.

The performance was enthusiastic and energetic even if the occasional song was not sung on pitch. I was especially fascinated watching the conductor. He was so supportive of those teen student actors! He mouthed the words for them and made direct eye contact with each to bring him in on cue. I am positive that conductor was a very talented musician yet never once did I see the hint of a wince or the slightest indication of acknowledgement they were off key. To do so would certainly have shaken their confidence and dampened their enthusiasm. 

How Frank and I feel about a show is largely dependent upon how Alex reacts. Alex stayed engaged throughout the whole show, even though it did not strictly follow the movie Beauty and the Beast, one of his favorites. I do not think the beast was quite beastly enough for him. The actor portraying the beast was slender and wore only a head dress and paws. When he appeared, Alex did not utter "Beeeeh", as he does with the movie. Alex did love when Belle showed up midway through the second act in her classic billowing yellow ball gown and did exclaim "Behhl" as she came on stage. The cast did a splendid job on the huge dance number Be Our Guest where the dishes and silverware cavort and frolic all over the stage. Alex clapped at that. In summary it was a very positive, fun experience and I am glad we went.
By coincidence the following night March 13th was the season final of the ABC reality TV show The Bachelor. Frank and I sheepishly admit to watching it and trying to guess who the final woman will be. It features a red rose in it as well.

A similarity struck my funny bone. With a bit of digital cut and paste and mirror imaging I created this juxtaposition. I wonder if the Disney executives ever saw this similarity? "Will you accept this rose" apparently means the same in reality land or fairytale land. Perhaps it is true that, "A rose is a rose is a rose".