Sunday, September 30, 2012

homemade apple cider

This time of year at our house is all about brilliant orange and yellow squash from the gardens, raking leaf piles for the little ones to lose themselves in, cool evening bonfires, and crisp, juicy apples from the family orchard.

Feast your eyes on this visual recap of our recent apple cider pressing, and then visit your local apple orchard to get some for yourself!

Freshly picked from the family's organic orchard
"...Give me spots on my apples, but leave me the birds and the bees. Please!" - Joni Mitchell

We send the apples through a garbage disposal fashioned just for this purpose
(Maybe it's cheating a bit not to grind by hand, but it's much easier on the
 muscles and the end result is just as good)

Crushed apples go first into a cheesecloth bag and then into our 40+ year-old wooden cider press

And out comes the good stuff


Then into quart jars for canning

So pretty

And oh-so good

For a little more fall fun, grab a mug of hot or cold apple cider and head on over to 
our toy shop for some autumn baby finds:

autumn-inspired teethers by Smiling Tree Toys

Friday, July 13, 2012

Smiling Moon Balancer in action

Neptune from Montessori Ici was kind enough to share her recent blog post all about our Smiling Moon balancing toy.  Her two little ones are having a blast with it, and they're learning all about balance, colors, stacking, and sorting while they play.  Read on to hear all about Neptune's experience with this toy, and enjoy her gorgeous photos...


Wednesday, 4 July, 2012


For summer, I have tried to find a few toys that I could play with the kids when they either need to get way from the sun, or during a rainy day.  Although these have been scarce lately, we have found ourselves going inside a few times to get away from the heat.

This week, I got this toy out.  It is a balancing moon game by Smiling Tree Toys that I found on Etsy.  I like that it is handmade, with natural material, the quality is outstanding, and it is very inviting to play with.

We have been playing many ways with this toy.  Alone, or together, as a game or just an activity of balancing.  E has even found his way of playing with the parts of this toy: by using the wooden rods to pile them up, and even sort them by colours (and of course, trying to balance them on the moon, with a lot of success I might say!).

X and M have been playing together a lot at this, but I have also seen X trying to make patterns and montage of his own...which are not always successful...but still loads of fun

escaping block on the right

The kit comes in a drawstring bag, and contains the moon and 14 wooden dowels to balance on the moon.

It is simple yet fun, it is open ended enough to be able to make many variation of the game, portable, and playable about anywhere. We are totally happy with this toy, perfect summer game.


**For more great handmade toys from Smiling Tree, visit our Etsy Shop - you'll find wood teethers, rattles, cars, blocks, personalized toys, and oodles more.  

**NEW** Go behind-the-scenes and get a feel for daily life at our home-based business in our new About Us page.

Monday, June 11, 2012

sights and sounds at Smiling Tree come to life

With a home-based business run primarily online, we don't often get the chance to personally interact with our customers.  Sure we have some great chats via e-mail, and we love getting to 'virtually' know the families who are making Smiling Tree Toys a part of their homes.  But we're a sociable, happy-go-lucky couple and we love to meet new people. So not getting to meet you face-to-face is disappointing for us.

We dream of some day turning our picturesque red barn into the new home of Smiling Tree Toys, complete with an inviting, attached side room for displaying and selling our toys, hosting visitors, getting to know people like you over cups of hot tea or lemonade.

We're confident that day will come.  But in the mean time, we're excited to offer you the chance to get to know us just a little better.  You've seen lots of photos of our toys, our home, and our family.  But seeing and hearing us in action is an even better way to connect with the artisans behind your organic, heirloom wooden toys.

Thanks to a Minneapolis TV station that recently featuring our family business, we can share a short clip with you about Smiling Tree and our homegrown organic camelina oil finish.  (More about Omega Maiden, our family farm's camelina oil business, in a later post.)

Check it out!  (And sorry about the 10-second ad at the beginning...)

Monday, February 13, 2012

doing our small part: Smiling Tree and Camp GLOW in Zambia

You know that little blurb you see in our Etsy shop and on our packaging that says "circling the earth with smiles: we donate to worldwide youth development projects for every toy sold"?   Well here's your chance to learn more about the good things that your Smiling Tree purchases support!  We're excited to share some pictures and details of Camp GLOW - the Peace Corps project in Zambia, east Africa that we supported during 2011.  The following was written by the Peace Corps Volunteer who coordinated the project:

In August 2011, twenty female students and ten teachers met in the eastern region of Zambia to partake in a five day training camp focusing on promoting gender awareness and female empowerment. Called Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World), the participating girls and teachers traveled from various rural communities throughout the east. The goal of the camp was to provide the knowledge and tools necessary for participants to address gender obstacles with their home communities.

In Zambia, these obstacles include high rates of early marriage, early pregnancy, unsafe and often forced sexual experiences, elevated school dropout rates, discouragement of female leadership, and a general subjugation of females within the community. This camp provided the opportunity for girls to share experiences with one another and arm themselves with skills such as self-esteem, resisting peer pressure, identifying sexual assault, goal setting, awareness of rights, leadership and communication skills.

Camp participants and their teacher brainstorm ideas on how to bring the GLOW club back to their school and community. The girls and teachers are the ones who will lead the GLOW clubs back in their communities.

Girls and their teachers talk about HIV, healthy relationships, self confidence and girls rights.  These are all important topics that affect gender equality in Zambia.  
This debate was about the positive and negative impacts of early marriage on young females.

Peace Corps Volunteers acted as facilitators and educators throughout Camp GLOW. After taking part in the camp, female students and their teacher counterparts returned to their respective communities to share their knowledge and start local GLOW clubs, encouraging the integration of gender equality and awareness into school curriculum and various communities activities, followed up by the PCV in the participating community.
The ultimate goal of Camp GLOW was to encourage the next generation of Zambian female leaders by connecting them with the role models, knowledge, skills, and peer support networks necessary to make sustainable advances in gender equity in Zambia.

This is the 'Sugar Daddy' Game. Girls stand in a circle and practice saying "no!" to one of the volunteers who's pretending to be a sugar daddy. This game promotes self confidence and also encourages girls to stand up for each other.

And lastly, here's a hand-signed thank you that we received from one of the girls who took part in the camp:

Something about being able to see and touch that letter with its carefully penned signature was the most meaningful part for me; more than seeing the women and girls in the pictures, and more than hearing the Peace Corps Volunteer's description of the event.  Deliwe and her emerald green marker remind me that for her, our modest donation to the Camp GLOW project really did make a positive difference.  It brings back visions of the pearly white, bright smiles of girls who lived around us in our Nigerien village when we were Peace Corps Volunteers.   

We learned very quickly that we couldn't fix everyone's problems while we were there, but we did our absolute best, gave it our all, and were able to make the lives of many in our little village in Niger, West Africa just a little brighter.  And it's really all about the small, intangible things in life, isn't it?