Presents of the past (AKA Playing on a budget)

Brought to you by Tyler and the letter K.

We have five kids. They play. Now that we’re on budget, we dusted off a few toys from the attic. We’ve also “ re-purposed” a few things (that’s how fancy people say “used old crap for something new”). After a few months of being home, we are starting to get a idea of what toys work well and what toys don’t. Since I have two thumbs, I’ve included a coarse grading system too.


Back Story – This is a toy from my childhood. In the toy world, I grew up at the tail end of what I will call the “Metal Age” going in to the “Pastic Age”. Constructs were a building toy similar to the Erector set without all the fuss of those annoying screws and nuts.

Wow factor – High. Any time you dump out a huge bucket filled with lots of pieces, an “Oooo!” falls over the crowd.

Safety – Average. Turd Furgeson can probably swallow some of the pieces, but if I still had the original box, I’m pretty sure the appropriate ages would exclude her anyway. The good news is, she is mainly interested in destroying the things that her brothers and sister make, and that usually is a bigger-than-mouth sized conglomeration of parts.

Entertainment to cost ratio – High. My parents bought this toy for me, and I don’t think it was one of the cheaper toys in the store. Having said that, I have played with these a ton, and they have provided about six hours of entertainment to my kids. Since there are a lot of pieces and we don’t like cleaning up so much, we don’t get it out very much. Otherwise the hour-count would be higher.

Rundown – I have at least three sets of Constucts, all with a different color-theme, that are all intermixed. Some might call my bucket of constructs a picture of diversity working together. Our kids just build machines with non-consistent color-schemes.  Having said that, it does take some prior understanding of construction to play with this toy. I usually build something basic, and they stick additional, un-needed parts on said thing. When they get to be in their teens and twenties, I’m sure the same thing will happen. I will provide the car, and they will “trick it out” by adding un-needed parts.

Verdict – Two thumbs up.

A “Tricked Out” Constructs Car.



Back Story – Also, a Tyler-toy of the “Plastic Age” (For those of you that are curious, we are currently in the “Touch-Screen Age”). This took the construction aspect of Constructs, and added the flair of providing motors and a keyboard to control a machine of your creation.

Wow factor – Ultra high. The big dumping bucket effect was there, but it was also coupled with the realization that there are motors and wires. The natives said in their own tongue, “We are really building something serious now!”

Safety – Average. Little pieces. What can I say?

Entertainment to cost ratio – Low! Unlike the Constructs, these 25-year-old pieces of plastic did not hold up in this childhood renaissance. When you tried to connect two pieces, they were so brittle that one would usually splinter into lots of other pieces. Further, the motors would not fire up. After much prodding with my Multimeter, I discovered that they were getting power, just not doing anything with it. After about forty minutes of fun, this toy was toast. Hardly worth the investment of tripping around it in the attic for the past quarter-century.

Rundown – YES!

Verdict – Two thumbs down.

Si. Es rompio.

We did have fun making a pretend pipe-organ out of the keyboard and wires that were left after the plastic pieces broke.


Polly pocket

Back Story – This little fire-cracker is about half the size of a black-cat, and has brought delight to Beth and her sister when they were growing up. Like Barbie, Polly cannot stand alone. She comes with an entourage of other tiny friends and accessories. She has places to live that are stylized to look like cosmetics. When you open them up, you realize that it isn’t a baby mirror and blush, it is a miniature park with a merry-go-round and a slide for Polly to play on.

Wow factor – Average

Safety – Below average. Something about Polly says “Eat me”. Maybe the world has grown (or we have), but she never seemed so small before! Beth tells me that modern Polly has a bit more girth, but “Polly Backpack” or “Polly Moderately-Sized Purse” don’t fall off the tongue as easily. It is almost as if her name was picked solely because it gave excellent alliteration to the toy name! …Sorry. Sometimes I say crazy things!

Entertainment to cost ratio – Average, but I feel this isn’t as much Polly’s fault as it is mine. Polly, her friends, and her accessories, were not as tightly controlled as some of the other toys that we’ve listed. After the initial few rounds of play, her pieces have found their way into the nameless rabble in the catch-all toy boxes. You find yourself saying, “Polly might like to play, but I’m pretty sure her slide and merry-go-round are resting at the bottom of the toy box with the dominos and blocks, and it is too much trouble to fish them out. Maybe she can just sit on this park bench.” And, a Polly without her fun things, just looks bored.

Rundown – Our oldest girl plays with her quite a bit. She has confessed to us that she really likes Barbie toys, but I think Polly is an adequate, albeit small, alternative. If she has two or more humanoid playthings, she can carry on conversations with them for hours, so the lack of accessories has been somewhat overcome.

Verdict – One thumb up, one thumb down.


Back Story – The Holy Grail of construction toys. I accumulated at least ten sets of Legos over the course of my childhood. Simple enough for a kid to understand with seemingly unending possibilities. It is said that the number of ways to combine six 2X4 bricks is 915,103,765 according to the first Google hit I had because I was too lazy to do more investigation… my point was already made. In the words of my ninos, “Es MUCHOOO!” Yes, this was the rainy day buster of my childhood. The best part was, one Christmas, I got the Lego monorail space-train set, which with the simple addition of a nine-volt battery, would move on it’s own and provide about three or four hours of continuous fun… until you purchased another nine-volt battery. Despite what Beth thinks, this is an indoor toy.

Wow factor – Huge. I have two buckets of these toys to dump out.

Safety – Below average. Many of the pieces compete with Polly in size.

Entertainment to cost ratio – High. Yes, they are pricey  but a lot of fun can be had (clearly with only six pieces). My kids have only had about four hours of fun with them, but don’t hold that against Lego. We got them down for the first time on Saturday, but I’m sure they will be coming down more often as we head into winter.

Rundown – Still as good as the day I got them! I ran to Walgreens and got a nine-volt battery for the train, and after a little cleaning on the terminal leads, she fired right up. That was definitely the nail in the coffin for Robotics in the favorite “mechanized, plastic construction toy” department. The kids are still new to Legos, so playtime was similar to Constructs… “Here is the start of something great. Put more junk on it as you like.” The train, however, was super fun, and they watched it for a solid hour. After a while, they gave it a cockpit, and stuck about four Lego men on it. I can only imagine what the Lego men were thinking – “Look kids! Big Ben. Parliament.” (a quote from an 80’s movie to stay consistent with my childhood).

Verdict – I wish I had three thumbs to put up!

Broken Fence

Back Story – Our fence was terrible when we first moved in to our new (to us) house. I have spent a lot of time and money replacing it over the past three years. The old slats were cut down so we could clean up the mess and possibly use them some day for fire kindling. Some day never came.

Wow factor – Very low. Let’s face it, it’s a rotting old fence

Safety – Average. I managed to cut out all the rusty nails, but there is risk of splinters, and it’s pretty unforgiving when you whack your sister on the head.

Entertainment to cost ratio – High! I paid nothing for this toy, and we have used it about thirty minutes to an hour a day.

Rundown – We discovered this toy can be used as rudimentary construction material. We tried making log cabins, but they were only big enough to get one kid in, and once they were in them, they looked like a brown version of that thing that brought Superman to earth when he was a baby. Also this fortress of solitude also gives you a since of how the “house of sticks” is easily blown over by the wolf. On the other hand, the 1X4 size makes an excellent road for matchbox cars. We’ve had hours of fun driving cars all over the back yard on these wooden freeways.

Verdict – One thumb up, but I’m not putting the other thumb down.

Tonka Trucks

Back Story – These suckers were rode hard and put up wet! A mainstay of my childhood sandbox. I used to lay across the truck on my belly as I let gravity drag me down our driveway out into the street (until I got a skateboard – I had issues with my feet not being independent of each other, so I did the exact same thing with the skateboard as it had more surface area and provided a more comfortable trek into traffic). I could not be more abusive to these toys, but after sixth grade, they made their way into the attic and haven’t been down since.

Wow factor – Not so much. I’m sure they feel like Woody next to a Buzz Lightyear, but they are from the “Metal Age” and built to last.

Safety – Average. Metal and heavy.

Entertainment to cost ratio – Big. Cheaper than a lot of toys by a long shot, and possibly a toy my grandkids can abuse.

Rundown – Without a single word or instruction on my end, I have now witnessed three of my five kids sitting on the truck as it rolls down a hill. Proud Papa Syndrome abounds! These have also been handy in dragging broken fence around the yard as we construct our highways.

Verdict – Two thumbs up.

30 years of abuse and still going strong. FYI… For toys, the brick scored the lowest on the safety scale.


Play Kitchen

Back Story – Beth’s aunt said she got this guy from a day care at a church. It was going to be thrown away. We had an unused wall in the girl’s room so it made its way from the heart of Pennsylvania to Midlothian, TX.

Wow factor – Pretty great. It is big, so that’s always impressive to a child, and it came with a lot of play-food. A LOT of play-food. I’m still getting poked in the butt by a plastic crinkle-cut fry every now and then when I sit on their floor.

Safety – Good. Large plastic food and wood with rounded edges. Aside from imaginary eating turning into real eating, we haven’t had too many issues.

Entertainment to cost ratio – Good. While it didn’t cost me anything, I feel it is only right to consider the first owner, and their up-front cost was probably high, especially for the kitchen itself. However, the kids really enjoy it, and have probably played with this toy more than all the others.

Rundown – This is more uni-sex than I originally gave it credit for. Boys and girls both play with it, and the cabinets are starting to be convenient storage for other random toys (I think a few of Polly’s things have been found in the back). Also, the floppy rubber fried egg can also double as pretend vomit, so that has also made for a few laughs. Something I have learned is you have to suspend disbelief when dealing with volume. You can endlessly fill cups with pretend tea from a pot that is half the size of the cups you are filling. Perhaps I’m too much of a realist, but I always encourage them to brew more, even when the imaginary cup is still half full.

Verdict – Two thumbs up.


The verdict is still out on a few toys, but the list is getting long, and I’m starting to get tired typing. Also, we have saved a few toys for when we really need them. The kids don’t know we have a Nintendo Wii in the cabinet under the TV. That’s like “An asteroid is coming to Earth and we have a few weeks to live” kinda day.

It is cool to see the things with which we used to play getting new life. We can also tell our kids about the things we did with them while enjoying their creativity with them too. Not to get too preachy and serious, but I have discovered in my 32 years of living that things are meant to be a blessing. Things are meant to be used. I sometimes got mad when Beth would tear into something that I have kept in the original package for fifteen years because I was sure it was going to be worth a ton of money someday (You Beanie Baby people know what I’m talking about!), but I am realizing that it did not bless my life in any way. It wasn’t being used.

Things need to be used. If I may go a step further, people need to be used (You all know who the User is – The upper-case letter should give it away). To quote Fritz Hollings, “I don’t want to rust out, I’d rather wear out.” I’m right there with you Fritz! I hope you all are wearing out too (in a good way)!

From the dinnermesa,


5 thoughts on “Presents of the past (AKA Playing on a budget)

  1. Chad Nichols says:

    Good to hear the kids are enjoying the old gear. I remember many fun hours with those same Legos. Just don’t let them dig below the plastic.

    • NANCY says:

      Amazing what a simple toy can do for child. It is always fun to see the excitement on their faces or maybe not so much excitement. Beth and Tyler we are looking forward to meeting your family someday. They are beautiful, what a blessing!

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