TomTect contruction set

tomtectOne of the best presents my son received this Christmas is a box of  TomTect, a contruction game I had never heard of before.
The box contains small pine boards (from renewable resources) and plastic crowbars which join the boards together– and that’s it! It’s so simple, so ingenious and so stylish!
My son jumped to it and started building immediately — a chair, an airplane… mostly simple things, but I just discovered that from the website you can download pdf instructions on how to build more complicated objects.
This game was invented by Tom van der Bruggen, a Dutch architect who moved to France and built a castle over a ruined farm. He is also the inventor of another contruction game called Kapla, which has been hugely successful in France.
My first impression of this toy could not be more favourable; it’s one of those toys that will last for ages and the perfect thing to get the dads involved too!


Bilingual alphabet book

sweetdesignsAlthough my husband and I speak English for work on a daily basis, our children speak only Italian. We do make an effort by teaching them a word every now and then and by showing them some English DVDs, and we truly welcome any activity which will help our kids learn a bit of English in a fun way.
That’s why we were so happy to receive a personalised bilingual alphabet book by Sweet Arts Design. The idea is as smart as it is simple! The book is a regular alphabet book with a picture for every word, but the smart idea was to use words that have the same initial in the different languages. Ours is, of course, an English-Italian one but you can also choose Spanish and French.

The books are printed to order so you can have it personalised with the child’s name, you can choose the picture on the cover, the background letter and the cover colour.
Books are either soft or hard-cover and you can order them from their website where you can also find loads of other items with their cheerful and sweet prints.


Dabbawalla bags

bagMy daughter’s new treasured possession is this cool rucksack from Dabbawalla Bags. It’s made of neoprene (like wetsuits) which is lead and PVC free and it’s stain-resistant and machine washable.
The name ‘Dabbawalla’ was inspired by one of the founder’s travels in India where she was fascinated by the complex system of lunch-box delivery men known as dabbawallas.
The bags are made in Taiwan in a women’s cooperative which pays fair wages. Dabbawalla also participates in fundraising activities by donating their bags to charity auctions — these bags are as ethical as they are functional (and hard-wearing!). (more…)

Erbaviva baby shampoo

erbavivaMy older son never suffered from cradle cap when he was a baby, but now at 4½, he is affected by a mild form of it! It’s nothing major; we have just been advised to use very mild, oily shampoos. Which is how we discovered Erbaviva, a company that was started in 1996 to offer mommies-to-be and babies upscale products completely free from all harsh detergents, chemical fragrances, and other unhealthy additives.  Following the success of their initial line they now offer a wide range of products for the entire family for bath, body and aromatherapy.
We have been using their baby shampoo for a few weeks and absolutely love it! The smell is a delicate mix of lavender and chamomile, it contains a detergent made from olive oil and wheat proteins, and it even lathers well thanks to Quilaja (the bark extract from a tree).
It’s an American brand but in Europe you can find it at online shop, Shak Shuka.


Mishmish prints

mishmishWe recently moved and so we had plenty of white walls to fill up! I was looking for something to hang in my children’s bedroom and landed on Mishmish studio. Artist Susie Lubell offers high quality prints of her original watercolor paintings, which means professional archival ink and professional museum etching paper. Her subjects are sweet and airy, perfect for children’s rooms and nurseries, but she also has an animal section and a more spiritual one. I also have the feeling that the print I chose will not look out of place in an older child’s bedroom, so this means it will probably last until my daughter will replace it with the poster of her favourite pop-band I guess!
Each print can be personalised with the child’s name, birth date and a special quote. Susie is happy to offer suggestions, but you can have your favourite quote printed if you prefer. I picked an inspiring and well-wishing Native American proverb that I was not aware of,  and it somehow seemed perfect for my daughter.


P.S. Remember to write BABYCCINO on your note to seller for a 20% discount until December 31st (it will be a Paypal refund)

Doll’s wooden bed from Ikea

letto-ikeaMy daughter is finally interested in the Corolle doll that she received as a gift nearly a year ago. She keeps it undressed (I know it’s common, but why?) and she takes it everywhere . I guess it has joined the blanket in the transitional object set.  She calls it ‘baby’, and for an Italian-speaking 2-year-old it’s kind of cute — it’s like if your toddler called her doll “bambina”.
So far she doesn’t do much with it, except to put it to bed, under the blanket! So last week I gave in and bought her the Duktig doll’s bed from Ikea. It was obviously easy to assemble and it came with a linen set. My daughter was so happy she even tried to sleep in it. (So I can confirm it is pretty sturdy and it will stand a 12 kilos weight!)


His first Campers

camperFI love Camper shoes. I bought my first pair 10 years ago and have added regularly to my collection since. I know they are not the most elegant shoes (I do own one or two pairs of those) but they are cool, funky and so comfortable. Somehow I’ve never bought a pair for my son, until yesterday!
The pair we chose has all the characteristics we needed — comfortable, nice looking and easy to put on. They have this elasticated string at the front and a zip on the side, so my son should be able to put them on by himself… and the school teachers won’t complain.
He picked the navy blue and green himself,  but I also loved the brown suede ones that have and electric blue sole. I’m glad he had no hesitation, I would have been so undecided.
Camper for kids start at size 23, but on their website I spotted some baby ones I was not aware of.
So the good news is … you’re never too young for your first Campers!


Babyccino birthday — Personalised gift tags

gift-tagsLuckily in Italy the vast majority of shops will gift-wrap any item you buy as a present. Some are stylish wrapping jobs, some are simple boxes and sometimes there’s nothing more than a ribbon on a paper shopping bag.
But that’s normally enough for me; unlike Courtney, I’m not that good at wrapping plus I’m also not extremely organised with papers, ribbons and tags. Quite often my children bring gifts to their friends and the birthday wishes are written on the wrapping paper with a big marker (nice handwriting though!).
Things might slightly change, because now my children have a small supply of super cute personalised gift tags! Trendy Peas has  a vast selection of contemporary wall art and paper goods for children. The designs are chosen with children in mind — from letters and numbers, to safari and flowers, they have something for everyone.
I can’t wait for the next birthday party.


Babyccino Birthday – Michela’s Top 5

It was hard to choose as always, but it was also nice looking back! Here are my top five favourites…

1.) A tutu for you by Emilie, because I can just feel the relaxed atmosphere in that English cottage in the evening (and the tutu is great too).
2.) Homemade maracas by Courtney, because it’s such a great project, of the kind I never do with my children.
3.) Auto trash by Esther, because it made me discover such a smart product that all families travelling by car most likely need.
4.) Sidney’s little star by Natalie, because it’s great to discover that people all over the world share the same views and have the same problems!
5.) A walk in New York by Courtney, because I love this book and so does my son. It’s such a sweet adventure (and Courtney’s book suggestions are always great).


Jack-o-lantern clementines

jack-clemHalloween is definitely not an Italian tradition, but in recent years around this time of the year we do see more pumpkins and orange stuff in the grocery stores. Funnily enough the only costumes accepted are spooky ones, which I’m not too sure are very appropriate for children. Nonetheless it’s another occasion to have some fun, so I’ll jump into it too!
Pumpkin carving is still beyond my abilities, but I did make Courtney’s cupcakes, and I’ve decorated the table with these mini clementine Jack-o-Lanterns. I got the idea on Zakka Life, and they are so cute and easy. I must admit I went the easy way and used a permanent black marker, but apparently you can use less “dangerous” ones so that children can easily participate in the activity!
Happy Halloween!


Fun hats from Ikea

It must be Halloween season because dress-up items are everywhere in the kid’s section at Ikea! They’ve brought out again the funny masks that Courtney wrote about a while ago (although I could not find the ladybird or the chick), and in the same Maskerade collection they have added these fun hats which can definitely be a good starting point for a simple costume. They have velcro at the back, so they should fit kids of any age and head size.
I bought a few of them for our costume basket and the children love them; my son is so funny with the viking helmet plus beard. They are not in the catalogue or on their website… but they are there, trust me!


Family dinners

familydinner2As you probably know, Italians are experts at family dinners, especially the ‘special occasion’ meals. We’ll usually have three (or more) generations sitting, eating and chatting their time away. I love them, but real life is different.
In our home it seems that even two generations is one too many as it’s nearly impossible to enjoy a meal with the children. They are fussy eaters, they need total dedication, encouragement and a lot of effort. The older one never finishes his (ant-size) portions of food, and the little one cannot sit still for longer than 10 minutes. Every other minute a spoon falls on the floor, or somebody’s beaker needs refilling. Not too mention the cutting and the chopping.
Call me a bad mother, but I simply cannot enjoy my food and the company in such situations. (more…)

Very portable kid’s desk

ikea stoolI just love it when people come up with different ways of using an object; it’s nearly like inventing something new!
Apparently the Ikea Bekvam step stool is quite prone to being reinvented. I particularly like this idea from lovelydesign to use it as a children’s desk. It’s great for small flats but also as a portable back-up desk.
You can take it in the kitchen while you cook or in the living room while you read the papers (do you still have time for them?).


The city-mouse and the country-mouse

topoI recently bought the Italian translation of this German book by Kathrin Schärer. It’s a simple story of a city-mouse visiting his friend in the country; he is shown all the beauties  and simplicity of life in the countryside and he appreciates them but he feels a bit out of place. To reciprocate he invites the country-mouse to the city and shows him all the city has to offer with its abundance, chaos and people. The country mouse appreciates some advantages but prefers to return home.
This simple tale has a long tradition; it dates back to Aesopus and Oratius and traditionally it was supposed to sing praise of the simple lifestyle of the countryside and criticize the opulence of the city lifestyle.
The author clearly chooses a version that does not choose one way of living over the other; the story is meant to teach children to appreciate what they have and be curious about what happens elsewhere. The important thing is to know and understand each other, and to remain friends.
And the illustrations are powerful and stylish.  Unfortunately it does not seem to have been translated into English, but you can buy it in Italian or German!


Hanging children’s art

dekaWe are moving home!  The new one is larger and, of course, better decorated. I have made the usual promise to myself (and my husband) to be more organised and to keep it tidier. So I’m on the lookout for smart tricks to help me keep my promise. This clever Ikea hack that I found on Ohdeedoh is one of them.
They used a Deka curtain rod to hang children’s drawings and paintings. It’s very versatile because you can cut the rod to the required length and the clips make it so easy to change and update the display.
I think it will be perfect in the playroom… and it’s so cheap!


Aperitivo in Milan

aperitivo1Milan is an expensive city, and when you are visiting on travel it’s probably even more difficult to have dinner without spending a fortune. During the day the ubiquitous bakeries allow you to eat on a budget easily but at night it’s easy to have to shell out a small fortune for a dinner, however nice it may be. If you take into account that children’s menus and small portions are hard to find, then the bill will be even higher for families with small children.
A nice solution might be to make the best of the Milanese aperitivo or “happy hour”. The hour is happy not because you get two drinks for the price of one, but because by paying for a drink you get unlimited access to a free buffet. (more…)


frittatazucchineFrittata is a delicious and extremely simple dish that you can find in any Italian region. Everybody has their own special recipe for it — which means that you just can’t go wrong. Whomever the cook, a frittata will always contains eggs (obviously), typically one or more vegetables, often some cheese and possibly some ham. It’s different from a French omelette because it is more set and it is delicious even hours after being cooked. And it’s different from a Spanish tortilla because the vegetables need not be fried and it is usually much thinner.
Frittata is a great way to use leftover vegetables; honestly it does not matter how little of them you have left, there will always be enough for a frittata (a bit like when you make a quiche). I find it’s also a good and sneaky way to make your children eat veggies; my son is really picky with green stuff but will eat a (partially green) frittata. (more…)

What did you do at school today?

schoolbear“What did you do at school today?” is the first question I ask my son when I pick him up from school, and when the nanny picks him up it’s the question I normally ask during dinner. The second one is “What did you eat at school today?” (Which obviously doesn’t apply to the majority of schoolchildren all over the world who get their lunch packed by their mums.) What I invariably get as an answer is a blank stare followed by something in the line of “I don’t know/I can’t remember/I’m not sure”.
How come the extremely reliable memory of my son fails so spectacularly?

Now, I can’t remember where I read it but apparently the best way to get the information you want is to pose the question differently and ask “What is the best thing you did at school today?”. I tried it a couple of times last week and the reply, maybe just out of surprise for the new question, was way more satisfying than average.
Unfortunately, given the quality of the state school’s canteen service, I cannot apply the same trick to my second question. Somehow “What was the yummiest thing you had for lunch today?” would still get no answer.


Play-brunch at the San Vittore

sanvittoreItalians, or possibly just the people from Milan, have come up with their own version of brunch. In the last 10 years many restaurants have specialised in a particular Sunday lunch, that goes by the name of brunch.
It’s not too dissimilar from what the international crowd believes brunch should be, but it has its own peculiarities. First of all it happens at lunch time, not in between breakfast and lunch. The experience normally involves a big buffet table that offers food in a very wide range. You’ll find lasagna, pasta and risotto next to meatballs and sausages. All sorts of grain salads next to grilled vegetables. But also scrambled and hard boiled eggs, brownies, pancakes, fruit, yogurt and cereals. So it’s really hard not to find something everybody likes.
That’s why it has become a favourite family event — informal, quick and with lots of choice for the fussy children.
Today we tried the play-brunch at the San Vittore restaurant, named from the prison it faces (in the center of Milan!). (more…)

Funny bird collage/drawing

birdTOTLast weekend we had dinner at a street fair and we ventured to the kids craft tent to see if there was anything nice and easy for my 4-year-old to do. And that’s where we made these funny birds!

My son loved it, and it was a super simple project… something I could even organise myself! His bird is now hanging proudly in his room, and so is the one I made for his sister.
Just get a rectangle of heavy coloured paper (any colour will do, these are funny birds), the long side should be double the length of the short side. Fold along the median, so that now you have a square. Unfold and now fold along the squares diagonals, so you will now have a triangle.
To create the beak you must slightly overlap the folded parts — you can obviously create beaks of any width. Just glue it in the middle of a white sheet of paper and let your child create his bird, or any other beaked animal!


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