Product Review: Cuddle Clones Custom Stuffed Animals

Cuddle Clones make great gifts for those who miss their pets, whether due to the pets moving on to the Rainbow Bridge, or if the owners are having to spend extended periods away from their loved ones. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
My sons with their “Howies.” Cuddle Clones make great gifts for those who miss their pets, whether due to the pets moving on to the Rainbow Bridge, or if the owners are having to spend extended periods away from their loved ones. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Earlier this year, our family lost our beloved pet, Howie. You can read more about him on my website. During our mourning, we learned of a company called Cuddle Clones. My husband and I thought this would be a great gift for our 11- and 9-year-old sons to help them remember Howie.

The company was founded in 2009, when Jennifer Graham lost her own beloved pet, Rufus. While she had been mulling the idea while her pet was still alive, it wasn’t until his death that she decided to go forward in starting up a company that specialized in completely customized stuffed pets.

Pay a visit to the Cuddle Clones website. You will instantly be greeted with a slideshow of incredibly cute stuffed pets, with the photos of the real pets alongside the replicas. You will see the accuracy and quality right away. In addition to the stuffed animals, Cuddle Clones offers cast resin figurines and ornaments. It also offers gifts and supplies for your living pets, such as shirts, beds, and collars.

The website is easy to navigate, and in just a couple of clicks, you can start designing a custom pet replica of your very own.

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The Cuddle Clones website makes it easy to upload photos of your favorite pet and design a “clone” for you or your loved ones. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.

For the classic stuffed Cuddle Clone, you will go through a step-by-step process that includes uploading numerous photos of your pet. The more photos you have available, the better. Howie had a distinctive curly, fluffy tail (he was part Chow Chow), so I made a point to let the company know on the order form to make sure the tail is right.

Cuddle Clones aren’t inexpensive. Expect to invest $199 for a dog or cat, or $129 for smaller pets such as guinea pigs and rabbits. Don’t forget tax and shipping, which is approximately $10 per pet. I assure you, based on what we’ve seen with our own new pets, the attention to detail is worth every penny.

Also, Cuddle Clones take a while to make. Each pet is individually handcrafted, and that takes time. As of this writing, expect to wait 8 to 10 weeks for your completed replica. Ours took about 9 weeks.

Cuddle Clones will arrive in custom boxes wrapped in tissue paper. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
Cuddle Clones will arrive in a custom box wrapped in tissue paper. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

When the replicas arrive, prepare to be dazzled. I was certainly shocked at how big the clones actually are. Each one was about 12 to 14 inches long, and about 10 inches tall. A tag with your pet’s name is sewn onto the back of the animal.

Check out these comparison photos and see for yourself:

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The left side is Howie from 2006. I thought they had amazing detail in Howie’s face, from the pink in the ears to the grey around his mouth. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
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The top photo is from fall 2007. They did a fine job with capturing Howie’s curly, fluffy tail. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Our sons absolutely loved them…at first. The boys toted them all over the house, had their “Howies” ride in the car with us, and slept with them at night. However, our oldest son began to have dreams about Howie again and that worried us. So he (for now, he insists) has put Howie away for a little bit. Our youngest son continues to love his “Howie.” Based on their cost, however, we’ve discussed whether the clone should be placed in a nice location just for viewing, or if we should just let the kids hug and love them to death the way they do their other favorite stuffed animals.

I have to admit, we were worried about whether such an accurate likeness would creep out our sons. We decided to go forward, but some families might not be comfortable with it. You know your kids well; consider their reactions to a gift such as this.

While having the replica as a memory of a passed-on pet is a great way to enjoy a Cuddle Clone, consider other ways to make them great gifts. How about a gift for your son/daughter going away to college? Is your favorite military member taking a deployment and might miss his/her pet? Consider Cuddle Clones.

Join the company’s mailing list for coupon codes, such as $30 off a clone.

GeekMom received a discount on this product for review purposes.

Build Your Own Ninja Turtle, or Not?

Build Bear Turtle
Image: Build-A-Bear Workshop

Last weekend, I took my boys, ages two and four, to our local Build-A-Bear Workshop. I was flying solo, but if you hit the store just as it opens, you’ve pretty much got the run of the place. My husband does not enjoy the same affection for an abundance of soft toys that my sons and I do, so I try and leave the voice of reason at home.

Build Bear Leo
Image: Build-A-Bear Workshop

This was to be a special event. Unbeknownst to my eldest son, the store had debuted a line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I felt certain that he would “neeeeed one,” and had thought briefly about using their online reservation system. This enables you to pay ahead of time and have the store reserve the carcass of your choice for you. If I believed the promotional emails I was getting (and I did), the store would be inundated with Ninja Turtles fans and was going to sell out quickly. Therein lay my first dilemma. I was certainly not going to turn over $100 plus tax on all four Ninja Turtles, and his favorite Turtle changes as often as his underwear. Most of the time it is Leonardo, as we are daily informed that blue is his favorite color. He will occasionally give allegiance to Michelangelo, as he knows that this was my childhood favorite. Sometimes he will even give a nod to Raphael as “red’s okay.” Poor Donatello never gets a look in. I felt pretty certain Leonardo would be the chosen one, but I have been wrong before.

Boy was I wrong this time.

We are Build-A-Bear Workshop aficionados. We have a bear, a bunny, a puppy, and a Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer complete with roller skates and sound box. If I had my way, there would be an AppleJack in our house right now. My youngest son has yet to fully develop this inherited affection, but my eldest son at four (he would want me to add “almost five”) is a die-hard. It’s never, “We’re going to Build a Bear,” but always, “We’re going to Build-A-Bear Workshop.” Choosing the bear in question is a momentary thought for him; it is in the details that he thrives. He loves the construction, helping with the stuffing, and picking out a heart. He loves to watch the stitching and takes great pride in the bathing. He loves to name the bear and helps me fill in the birth certificate. He loves to pick out the accessories, which is usually a piece of equipment rather than an item of clothing.

On this particular visit, we came screeching to a halt after running the entire length of the concourse. We were faced with oh-so-many Ninja Turtles. The advertisement I had seen contained pretty decent pictures, and so they were of the quality I had expected—which incidentally, is greater than the quality I would expect of a cuddly Ninja Turtle. Having not read the details too deeply, they were bigger than I had expected them to be. They don’t come with their accessories; your base Ninja Turtle is $25 and if you want nun-chucks or swords, then you’re going to have to play the Grandma card.

Build Bear 2
Image: Sarah Pinault

Instantly, one of the lovely, calm, and patient, cast members started to engage my son in conversation. His side of the conversation went something like this: “Aha, aha, yup, erm, the blue one, yeah that one, aha, yup, okay bye.” All the while, his eyes darted around the store, and down the long row of empty bodies to the beloved “fluff machine.” He made a beeline for the bears, bypassing the buckets of Ninja Turtles. I asked if he wanted Leonardo. “Nope, this guy,” he proclaimed, holding up a generic black bear.

And so, I learned a classic lesson of geek parenting: You can lead your child to geek, but you cannot make them geek out.

Thus far, he has acquiesced in one form or another to anything we put in front of him. Darth Vader for Halloween? Sure. Rocket ship-themed birthday party? Let’s blast off! Frozen at the movies with mommy? Let’s go. Ninja Turtles cuddly toy, something that would have been cherished in my ’80s childhood? Nah!

So this is where it begins, where we start loosening up the steelton cables. We always knew this day would come.

Hero turtles
Image: Screenshot

I am kind of shocked that he wanted a black bear. The name is “Bathy” by the way, as in Kathy, but not. I had fully expected him to want Ninja Turtles, as he has been the one leading me back into my childhood memories. Although growing up in England, I watched the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles. My shock was therefore not his rejection of my own love, but more a reaction to his preference of something so simple, over something he loves. He is getting quite the diverse personality, my little man.

I love watching him explore the world around him and being privy as he develops his own style. Sure it’s great when we share something. One of my favorite things to do is sit and read with him, and I love it when he chooses Each Peach Pear Plum. I also love it when he asks me to read his Yogi Bear comic books, though I hate reading comic books aloud. I love it when he wants to go swimming with me, but I also love it when he wants to race our bikes across the lawn. Then, I collapse in a non-bike-riding puddle.

He starts kindergarten this year and is about to get bombarded with a wide range of new influences, and I get a front row seat to everything he discovers and loves, and learns to love. I get to watch as he dislikes things and help him deal with that. I couldn’t be more excited and more terrified.

Now I just need to get my own Ninja Turtle!

Cuddly Forge of Honor Creatures Fend Off Night Terrors

If Pixar has taught us anything, it’s that some monsters aren’t really all that scary. Still, there are some really freaky ones out there. That said, you don’t have to dream up any sort of monsters to have night terrors.

Heck, when I was a kid, I was afraid of a duck — yes, a duck. He lived on a little piece of furniture in my room and I was convinced that this thing was just biding its time, waiting to kill my entire family.

If your little one has monsters, ducks or some other boogeyman on the brain, you may want to invest in a Targimal, a Bordor Blade, or a Bordor Shield. The soft, medieval-themed set was developed by Forge of Honor, a tiny toy company out of Denver, CO.

The Targimals are pint-sized knights in not-so-shining armor. Instead, they’re soft and designed for sleep time, during which they can help kids battle those bedtime baddies. However, these wee warriors’ duties are not even close to complete once the sun comes up. These little guys are ready to rock playtime anytime! The  cuddly band includes an elephant and the very unique unicorn/pegasus/dolphin hybrid, as well as a slew of other characters and color combinations.

Forge of Honor also offers Bordor Blades and Bordor Shields, which are equally as plush for play and sleep times. It’s important to note that the shield can convert to a comfy pillow, with a specific spot for the Targimal to stand and keep watch. It also has a little pocket to nestle your Targimal during “battle mode.”

Creator Dale Taylor has taken to Kickstarter to make his toys a dream come true. With a pledge of $25, you can secure one Targimal or get the entire set for $58. At last peek, Forge of Honor had surpassed its $18,000 goal. However, the company is still taking pledges for a few more days, through Tuesday, August 6, 2013.

The Forge of Honor product line includes the Targimals, Bordor Blades, and Bordor Shields. Image: Forge of Honor.

Have a Cuddly Valentine’s Day With Hallmark’s Cupig and Until We Hug Again Bear

Hallmark Cupig
Cupig. Image: Hallmark

Valentine’s Day is this week, and if you haven’t picked up something for your kids, then Hallmark’s Cupig and Until We Hug Again Bear are two great options. They’re cute, cuddly and heart-warming gifts that will make you and your child smile.

Cupig is part of their Valentine’s Day product line, and as the name suggests, he’s part pig and part cupid. There are little hearts on his nose and he’s got white wings on his back along with a little heart belly button. Press the button in his hand and he plays “Cupid Shuffle” and does a wiggly shuffle in time to the music. This is one that’s practically guaranteed to elicit giggles from your kids.

If you’re looking for a more personalized cuddly gift, then try Until We Hug Again Bear. He’s ready for Valentine’s Day with a big heart stitched onto his tummy and an audio message that you record. You can say whatever you like as a 30-second message your child can play again and again.

Hallmark Until We Hug Again Bear
Until We Hug Again Bear, Image: Hallmark

I love Until We Hug Again Bear because you can save your message by locking it in until you want to say something new to record and save whenever you choose. This means you can leave a message for your little one that fits the situation, maybe wishing them luck on a big test when you’re out of town.

My kids fell in love with these when they saw them at our local Hallmark store. They worked with a couple of other kids to set an entire display of Cupigs dancing at once. My youngest, though, preferred the Until We Hug Again Bear. She wants one so she can hear my voice when I’m out of town and not miss me so much.

Cupig ($32.95) is only available through Valentine’s Day but Until We Hug Again Bear ($29.95) is sticking around so you can pick him up anytime. My kids will be getting these for Valentine’s Day and I know it’ll put smiles on their faces.

I received these products for review purposes.

Giveaway: Jingle the Husky Pup by Hallmark

Jingle the Husky Pup Storybook and Story Buddy by Hallmark

What child hasn’t hoped for a puppy under their tree on Christmas morning? Well, just in case you’re worried that Santa won’t come through you can have Jingle the Husky Pup there as backup. He isn’t just a stuffed animal, though, he’s also an interactive toy that reacts as you or your child reads through his storybook. His first book, Jingle All the Way, tells the tale of how little Jingle, who has no home, befriends the neighborhood kids and finally finds a home of his own with a little help from a guy in a sleigh.

As you read, certain lines are printed in red and they trigger appropriate responses from Jingle.  He barks happily, whines when he’s sad and even sings. It didn’t take my kids long to figure out that the red words were the key and they began creating their own stories and inserting those lines where they wanted to make him perform on cue. Now they’ve got their own special Jingle stories and have big plans to write a bunch more.

You can purchase Jingle alone or with his first storybook and then add to the fun with his second book, A Snow Day for Jingle. In fact, there are a whole line of Jingle themed products available this holiday season and there’s even a movie airing on the Hallmark Channel on Friday, November 25th. And thanks to the good folks at Hallmark who provided me with Jingle for review, one of our readers will be winning a Jingle of their very own.

Simply leave a comment on this post by midnight on Thursday, November 24th, telling me what your favorite Hallmark ornament is and we’ll draw a random winner the following day.  Good luck!

How to Throw an Angry Birds-Themed Birthday Party

A thieving pig, dirty from his last tower destruction, awaits the next Angry Bird KO.

Almost-two-year-olds aren’t very responsive when you ask what kind of birthday party they’d like. Especially mine, who isn’t the talker that his sister was. Three connected words are still a rarity, so when he spent a whole evening repeating, “Ang-y Birds par-ty! Ang-y Birds par-ty!”, I knew we had a winner.

I, on the other hand, was like Jared Newman–I simply didn’t get the Angry Birds phenomenon. I even tried playing it a time or two, and it reminded me of a thousand Flash games I’d played before. But how can you say no to “Ang-y Birds par-ty!”? You can’t. (I have since, as a result of planning this party, given in to full Angry Birds addiction.)

Step 1: Angry Birds decorations

This isn’t the sort of theme you can throw together the night before. Party City doesn’t have a convenient kit for an Angry Birds party. No pre-printed cups or packaged party favors. That leaves it to the DIY GeekMom. I focused on the bright, generally primary colors that Angry Birds uses and worked from there.

The most important step was sticker paper for the printer. The Oatmeal has a great image scaling the likability of the various birds. At the bottom, he offers a PNG file of the images he made for the birds–make a page full of them, and presto, stickers! I stuck them to everything–cups, balloons, favor boxes, children…

Then I got two shades of green posterboard and started making pigs. It took only one evening and two sheets of posterboard to make a dozen pigs of various sizes. I also downloaded the Angry Birds font and cut out my son’s name to make a banner.

For favors, I bought some generic red treat boxes and applied the aforementioned stickers. I filled them with gold-foil-wrapped chocolate eggs, gold eggs filled with glittery silly-putty-type goo, egg-shaped sidewalk chalk, and more stickers. (And bubbles, because who doesn’t like bubbles? But they were completely un-thematic.)

Step 2: Angry Birds cake

Of course, there’s the famous playable Angry Birds cake. But since we played much larger Angry Birds (see the end of this post), we didn’t need to play with our cake too. Well, not much.

I made small pigs on cupcakes the same way I did my daughter’s Helly Kitty cupcakes last fall. Super easy. They’re displayed in small (5”) versions of the live Angry Birds boards (which you’ll see at the end of this post).

Angry Birds cake

Then I made one large, 3D pig with a ball pan and lots of green fondant. I found the Touch of Gold Egg Decorating Kit in the dollar store and used it to make a dozen gold eggs. The large (slightly cracked, ready to be defeated) pig sat atop his stolen golden eggs on an old Easter egg stand I had around.

And just to complete the effect–as well as to amuse my five-year-old daughter for a while by letting her fill the pan one spoonful at a time–the inside of the large pig was made of “ground up Angry Birds”:

I tried to go thematic with other food, but that was a challenge. If you’ve got time on your hands, these Babybel Angry Birds are amazingly cute. But what did we do for food? Well…you know how the birds in the game don’t have wings? It’s because they were served on our party table with hot sauce.

The grand finale: Live Angry Birds game

Back in March, I saw “Live Angry Birds” on the SXSW schedule, which led me to tweet:

It actually turned out to be pretty fun:

Helping the birthday boy up to the launch

And not that hard to build. The first thing you’ll need are stuffed pigs and birds. You can go the lazy-but-expensive way and buy them at shop.angrybirds.com or on eBay. The DIY GeekMom way is to make them. Making them also means you can stuff the birds with beans to give them some heft. The shapes are pretty basic, but if you’re short on time or just like to have something to follow, obsessively stitching blog has great instructions and printable patterns.

For the walls, I bought a dozen sheets of foam board and cut them into 10”x10” squares (5”x5” for the cupcakes). Then I gave them each an appropriate wash with some tempera paint–blue for the glass (or ice? I’ve never been sure), brown with a quick swirl for woodgrain, and gray for the stone. I found that the most stable construction, especially since we played outside, was to cut only partly through some of the boards. If you perforate the foam board with an Xacto knife, then bend it to break through, one piece of the paper will stay intact. Bend at that joint to make a V shape, and place a fully cut 10”x10” board on top. Then start stacking! If you’re outside with the chance of a sudden breeze, it helps as you stack to place a pig inside once in a while to weight it down.

Then it’s time to launch the birds! Have two adults hold the ends of a resistance band. It might take a few tries to get the technique, but it’ll work as a slingshot. The best way we found was to grip the bird from the outside of the band.

It’s a bit late to mention, but…

Overall, it helps to be planning this party around Easter since it makes it easier to find things like chalk-shaped eggs and gold egg dye. I even sent extra kids on an egg hunt around the yard while other people were shooting birds (heh).

Party on, Angry Birds lovers.