Hattie the elephant (from Four Monkeys)

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When Pim was 2 years old, he pulled over a marble sculpture that my mum had made as our wedding gift and it broke in half. Thankfully we were able to restore it, but — better safe than sorry — we now keep our delicate sculptures in storage until our children are bigger. And I’ve been missing something cool on our floor ever since!

But then, I was browsing the super well curated collection of the awesome Austrian e-store Four Monkeys and my eye fell on Hattie the Elephant. And I couldn’t resist. Here we have a sculpture, a piece of art really, that is absolutely fine to display on the floor, within children’s reach, for children to play with, even. Because it is designed as a toy!

How cool is that?


Hattie the Elephant, heirloom toy from Four Monkeys (via Babyccino Kids) Hattie_3

Hattie the Elephant is made from beech wood and really royal in size, and it can be placed in different poses due to the elastic-band muscles, making it a fun and interesting toy that children will keep coming back to to play with. It is absolutely beautifully made and it is such a cool design element! (I also saw it on display in one of the world’s coolest shops, Hay House, when I was in Copenhagen recently.) Also, it is an extremely sturdy and durable sculpture, which makes the (steep) investment worth it, because this sculpture will survive generations of play in our living room. It probably will survive me! ; )

xxx Esther

Tuesday tips: Open-ended play and evergreen toys

Evergreen Toys

Today for Tuesday Tips I would like to talk about toys. The kind of toys that I prefer in our house are the basic, evergreen kind of toys. I like toys that are well made, with a simple concept, that can be used and combined in different ways or played with in different settings. Toys that are beautiful to look at, as opposed to most plastic, brightly coloured and battery-operated toys.

I have always had a preference for these kind of toys; I remember telling my mum when I was pregnant with Sara ten years ago to please not give me any battery operated toys! Of course, plastic toys have occasionally entered the house… (and so has Hello Kitty!), but over the past nine years, I have really noticed that the toys my children play with most (if not exclusively) are those that encourage creative and social play, and are designed with ‘open ended play’ in mind. I just love watching my four kids play together, building houses, cities, and worlds, setting the stage for the different scenarios for their pretend play.

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I do agree that typical battery operated toys have great appeal to my children at first. They will love the sounds and colours and will be so easily entertained. Often, when the toy is first given to them, they will even fight over it (these toys are designed for the entertainment of the individual child, not with social play in mind!). However, very often my children will quickly lose interest in the toy, which consistently performs the same trick over and over again. So boring! The toy will end up standing in a corner somewhere until we decide to bring it to charity. Such a waste! Heirloom toys are not always the cheapest investments to make, but if you consider that they will be played with so much, for generations even, it’s all worth it. My children still play with some of my own childhood toys!

I thought it would be nice to write down a list of some tips for evergreen toys that have proven to be very successful in our household — toys that are played with by children of different ages and don’t lose their appeal, ever. I asked input from Emilie and Courtney and some of my friends, so this is very much their list as well. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts about toys in general, and please do share your children’s favourite toys!

Toys we like (for inside play):

  • Wooden marble track: the perfect toy for all ages. Small children will like to play with the blocks and start stacking them (without the marbles of course), bigger children will build intricate tracks (and parents will gladly help).
  • Building blocks: stacking and building structures, but also great to combine with other toys (f.e. Schleich animals – build compounds, zoo, etc.) or just line them up. Any ordinary blocks will do (we also like this blocks set).
  • Dolls: Kathe Kruse and handmade Waldorf dolls look beautiful, but any good quality doll is fine. And some dolls’ clothes.
  • Doll’s bed: a simple fruit crate with some small towels will do, but a baby needs a bed, of course.
  • A sturdy dolls’ pram with little pillows and blankets. Invest in a good, sturdy dolls buggy and it will be played with forever.
  • Schleich animals: wonderful quality toys, they look beautiful and will be played with a lot. Great for all sorts of adventures.
  • Wooden play barn /house /dollhouse /structure: to combine with Schleich animals, Playmobil, all other little characters that children will find or create and need a place to live.
  • Lego & Duplo: building and inventing, creating. We love the original, plain blocks.
  • Puzzles (educational ones or just the old-fashioned jigsaws!)
  • Playmobil: we love the old-fashioned characters, great to mix with all sorts of other toys (see above).
  • Kapla: some of our favourite blocks for super creative tower-building (see building blocks).
  • Dress up clothes: some old shawls, hats, dresses and sunglasses and some pieces of fabric will get you very far. Let the children be creative – no need to invest in expensive dress-up outfits, which are much less imaginative anyway.
  • Train track: a simple wooden train track (Ikea) is great for all ages – a puzzle first, then a road, then it becomes a landscape (enter Schleich and Playmobil for surroundings)
  • Garage and cars: a wooden garage appeals to most children and it a great space to store the cars.
  • Nesting dolls: my kids love these! And they make great decor too.
  • Play kitchen & kitchen toys: a wine crate on the side with circles drawn on top makes a good enough play kitchen. And a little set of pots and some mini kitchen utensils will be played with loads. (Regular kitchen utensils are just as successful, BTW!)
  • Stacking cups: babies love playing with them, and all my kids still love them in their bath!
  • Wooden spinning tops: fun for everyone and they look pretty on your coffee table.

PS Like I mentioned above, these toys are mostly for indoor play — maybe we can share some favourite toys for outdoor play and some great baby toys later.

Gommini Minigoms PlayScape

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Germany is in so many respects so much further with responsible and sustainable processing and production methods than many other countries here in Europe. There’s such a strong local manufacturing of eco products, with use of honest materials, but the research for new, innovative materials, which allow new product design and at the same time leave less of a footprint on this world, is a trend I’ve also been noticing in Germany. I’ve written about the admirable production processes of the German clothing label Macarons before, the wonderful eco-wines of Weinreich, but also toy manufacturer Gommini is such a company.
Gommini uses Valchromat for their toys, a high-quality, solvent free, wood-based material which contributes to an efficient and responsible environmental management and encourages sustainability. The products are then treated with a purely natural oil, resulting in a very smooth and pleasant feeling, ‘soft’ surface. I love the modern look of their products.

We gave our children the Minigoms play scene for Christmas — a selection of 2D buildings, landscapes and openings that can be assembled and combined in different ways. The toy is not offering a fixed scenario — it can be used in all sorts of manners, allowing for the input and creativity of the child. It can for instance be a stable for the Schleich animals, a garage for the cars, a city for the train track, a house for the Playmobil characters, etc. It’s been a grand success by all means — it’s easy to assemble, wonderful to play with for all ages, pleasant to look at, and easy (flat) to store.

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If you’re ever looking for an evergreen kind of playhouse for your children that will stand the test of time, then this Gommini Minigoms playscape is certainly something to keep in mind.

xxx Esther

Beautiful, retro-style doll prams from The Tipi

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We’re moving house this week (!!) and have spent the past month paring down our belongings and clearing out all of the stuff we’ve accumulated over the past four years. It’s really kind of appalling how much stuff one family can collect into one house. And I thought we lived quite minimally. Ha!

Anyway, we’ve made several trips to the charity shop giving away lots of toys that don’t get used or haven’t stood the test of time. This exercise has made it even more clear to me that kids really don’t need loads and loads of toys to be happy — just the basics: legos, Schleich animals, and Kapla blocks for the boys, and dress-up clothes, dolls and a doll’s pram for the girls. Their favourite things!

I wanted to quickly mention how much the girls love their retro-style dolls pram from The Tipi. Not only is it beautiful to look at, but it’s really well made and sturdy in design — something we will certainly be taking with us to the new place and hopefully something we’ll keep forever for future grandchildren to use!

Alright – back to packing!

Courtney xx

Handmade ‘Maria’ doll from Mamma Couture

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In the run up to Christmas I spotted a Maria doll on Mamma Couture’s Instagram feed (a ‘Maria’ doll meaning Maria from The Sound Of Music, complete with her own guitar!). I just knew Ivy would love this, so we ordered one for her for Christmas and it has been a huge hit.

The dolls are all handmade by Mamma Couture’s creator, Eva, who is happy to take custom orders on dolls if you have specific requests. I think it’s such a sweet idea to create a doll based on a character your child loves. It has certainly encouraged lots of ‘Sound of Music’ themed play scenarios with all her other dolls… and lots of ‘Do Re Mi’ sing along sessions too! (You can contact Eva for custom orders.)

Courtney x

(Photos by Caroline Leeming, taken for the feature on The Daily Muse.)

kidO magnatabs

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kidO magnatabs is an ingenious toy that works with little metal beads which are permanently sealed in the plastic magnatab base and a magnetic pen that brings the beads to the surface once you draw over the base. The geometric creations simply erase with your finger once you’re done. It’s incredibly simple, but it’s the kind of toy that my kids pick up all the time — Casper (2) loves playing with it as much as his big sister Sara (9) does.

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The kidO magnatabs are great for traveling as well — it doesn’t take up a lot of space in your luggage and will keep children perfectly entertained in the back of the car, the train or the plane. I got ours at the adorable brick and mortar children’s boutique Big & Belg here in Amsterdam, but Perfectly Smitten sells it online, or you can get it from Amazon (US or UK ).

xxx Esther

Brio labyrinth game, suitable for 6-99 years!

brio labyrinth toyThis labyrinth game by Brio was one of the presents we gave Pim for Christmas and it was such an immediate success. During the courses at our Christmas dinner that evening, the kids were literally fighting over it, together with their grandfather (see photo!). So the fact that Brio markets this toy as suitable ‘for 6 to 99 years’ is really spot on : ).

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The classic labyrinth game was introduced in 1946, and it’s all about fine motor skills, reactivity and… patience. The little ball is balanced by turning the two knobs at the side simultaneously to keep it from falling in one of the holes. Different levels can be chosen by inserting a different board.

It all sounds really easy, but it’s much, much harder than you think!

xxx Esther

Everyday is a party! Gorgeous leather crowns from hubble + duke.

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My kids had a little party on our bed this weekend (like most weekends), and they were being so cute, wearing their leather crowns from Hubble + Duke, that I just had to take a few photos. And then, I even got them to sit still just long enough for a portrait! Yay!

Hubble + Duke crowns

Hubble + Duke is an Australian company run by three creative mums, offering some gorgeous goodies like soft mocassins, sweet rompers, adorable bloomers, and beautiful handmade apron dresses. And then, of course, there are the before mentioned crowns, which are so beautifully made and so comfortably soft. To be worn for dress up, birthdays, or just any day, because everyday is a party, isn’t it?

xxx Esther

Cute crochet friends from Leggybuddy

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Leggybuddy is a Swiss company started by designer Suzanna Pezo Sommerfeld. She’s a mother of a little boy and co-owner of a young and very cool looking design agency in Zurich. As if that is not enough to keep someone busy, she recently launched Leggybuddy, a line of adorable hand-crochet animal characters with, as the name implies, beautiful long legs!

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Suzanne designs and makes all of the product samples herself in her Zurich-based studio, and then they’re hand-crocheted in Europe using all natural materials like cotton and wool. Leggybuddies come in a small and large size, and are often wearing adorable little costumes so they can be dressed and undressed. Outfits are also available separately, and they’re all beautifully hand-crocheted as well, with sweet details like contrasting stripes and little pockets.

leggybuddy_3 leggybuddy_5Casper and Ava love their Leggybudies — I find it so sweet that Dorian the mouse is easily transformed into a beautiful Christmas princess just by changing his cool crochet dungarees (with pocket) into a little red party dress with matching booties. There’s also a bottle (impressively crocheted as well!) and I’m also impressed by the amount of patience Ava is displaying towards feeding Prince Froggy and Dorian — she’ll be a good mama one day!

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It’s obvious my kids love their Leggybudies. And I really like to have them around too — they’re such cool looking toys to have on display in our living room!

xxx Esther

This post is sponsored by Leggybuddy, a wonderful European brand and also a member of our shopping portal. Thank you for supporting the brands that support our blog!

The Little Things… A Doll Hospital!

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For this post in the The Little Things series, we made something I think every little boy or girl will love: a doll hospital!

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This is such a fun project to make, and it’s really quite simple. Also, most of the materials we’ve used are recycled!

A trip to the local greengrocer provided us with the (future) hospital beds. With simple white paint (I used primer which was left over from our house renovation) I painted the vegetable boxes, and with red acrylic paint from the children’s craft box, I made a red cross on each bed.

From old pillowcases I made white mattresses, sheets and pillows for the beds. And I couldn’t resist painting a red cross on the sheets with fabric paint.



Nurse-cap (The Little Things by Babyccino Kids) Prescriptions for Doll Hospital (The Little Things by Babyccino Kids)

And then — how ADORABLE are these free downloads for a DIY nurse cap and doctor’s prescriptions? Sara from SakaDesign made them for us again. She’s so talented!

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I painted a similar red cross on a simple white suitcase (which we bought), to create a doctor’s case. And, of course, every respectable doctor’s case needs some serious doctor’s necessities!

The pharmacy around the corner kindly gave us a syringe, some plastic containers, a measuring spoon and cup. The simple bandages and plasters came from our first aid kit. We glued a strip of paper in the lid of the doctor’s case to hold the prescriptions, and filled the plastic containers with colourful ‘pills’ (M&Ms!!). We also put a thermometer, a scissors and a stethoscope in the case.

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And here are Doctor Ava and Doctor Juul, ready to heal some very sick baby dolls! As you can see, they take their task rather seriously. ; )

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The girls played for hours with the doll hospital. It was such a huge succes! (And I’m thinking, wouldn’t it make a very sweet holiday gift as well?)

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xxx Esther

PS –  This is the newest post in a series which is called ‘The Little Things’. Thank you Maud Fontein for taking these beautiful photos, and Sara Musch for the adorable download. The girls’ outfits are from Mabo Kids!

 

Sticker crafting with Pipsticks

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marlow crafting with stickers from Pipsticks
Pipsticks stickers

My friend, Maureen, invited us over to her house last week for a sticker craft playdate for the little ones (and homemade soup for the mums! Yummm).  It was such a fun and inspiring morning in her gorgeous home, and Marlow loved making (and wearing) her sticker crown. What a sweet activity.

Maureen is the founder of Pipsticks, a sticker subscription service for kids (and sticker-loving grown-ups) that delivers a curated pack of stickers to your mailbox every month. Each month Maureen puts together an awesome, seasonal pack of stickers from global suppliers, choosing the most unique and useful stickers kids are sure to love. In addition to stickers, each pack includes a blank postcard and a few sheets of colourful paper to use for craft projects and general ‘stickering’.

I think what I love most about Maureen, in addition to her sticker expertise and, of course, her homemade soup (!), is that she comes up with the cutest ways to use the stickers and offers all sorts of sticker craft ideas on her site. From sticker crowns to pretty pencils to sticker mandalas… most projects are easy enough for kids to do on their own, and make it that much more exciting to receive a sticker pack in the post each month.

Marlow and Ike
Ike sticker crafting
Marlow and Ike were so cute making their crowns together, and as you can see Marlow got creative and decided to sticker her outfit too. : ) You can see the full sticker crown tutorial over on the Pipsticks website where you can sign up for your own sticker subscription as well. (Enter code BABY11 at check-out to receive one month free off any 6 or 12 month subscription!)

Courtney x

p.s. Pipsticks will have a booth at this year’s ShopUp event selling sticker gift boxes and other fun sticker packs — they’ll also have a little craft station for kids as well, so be sure to check them out there! Just TWO MORE WEEKS!!

Pretend and play with Fanny & Alexander

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Last week, Courtney and her family were visiting us in Amsterdam, and we had such a lovely time. Eight children, who have known each other all of their life, together in one house. You can imagine the amount of fun we all had!

Ivy and Ava are one year apart, but these girls are the best of friends. They bond over dolls, drawing, and mischievous behaviour in general. The sound of their girly giggles throughout the house was just wonderful!

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When a few toys arrived from the fabulous toy makers Fanny & Alexander, all the way from Argentina, the girls proved to be the perfect models. Ivy instantly fell in love with the wooden camera — taking photos of all of us (and showing them to us on the ‘preview screen’ on the back of the camera — pretending, of course!). Ava’s new canvas school satchel (which fits beautifully thanks to the adjustable straps) of course needed to be photographed immediately.

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Fanny & Alexander is a brand based in Argentina and aims to develop nostalgic toys and children’s accessories. They work with local artisans to produce objects that are simple yet beautiful and are made to stand the test of time. Their collection is about capturing that unique feeling that childhood is all about and to encourage pretend play and creativity. Ivy and Ava are big fans, and so are we!

The beautiful products of Fanny & Alexander are now available at Shak-Shuka, or check other retailers here.

xxx Esther

This post is sponsored by Fanny & Alexander, a brand we highly admire for their dedication to developing unique and durable children’s toys and accessories. 

Dressable rag dolls from Mamma Couture

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How cute are these rag dolls from Mamma Couture? They’re completely handmade and the faces are hand painted, giving them such sweet expressions on their little doll faces. All the dolls come with a few super sweet clothes, that can be combined in different ways to create cute outfits. They are also machine washable (practical!).

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Mamma Couture is one of the fabulous shops that will join us at the ShopUp this December 3rd and 4th. I can’t wait to discover her newest creations (and I think I will pick some stuff up for my kids for Christmas!).

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Also… Yesterday we mentioned the great give-aways we’re running over on our shopping portal, but did you know that we’re also having some great prizes to win over on our new ShopUp Instagram account? Right now, you can still enter to win one of these fabulous rag dolls from Mamma Couture (hurry, hurry!!), and there will be more fabulous prize to win soon. Check out the ShopUp Instagram account for details!

xxx Esther

Custom watercolour portraits from Sophie & Lili

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sophie and lili custom watercolor portraits
Artist Jennifer Vallez from Sophie & Lili recently sent over these sweet watercolour portraits of my little family, and I love them so much. I love that she captured my children’s personalities so well, and all of it based on a couple Instagram photos I have recently posted. My kids are especially fond of them — Ivy has already asked to frame them and put them up in her room. So sweet.

Sophie & Lili offer a custom watercolour portrait service so if you would like her to paint your family, she’s your girl. I just love that she managed to capture my family at this special time when all my babies are still babies. What a wonderful keepsake!

Courtney x

p.s. Photos above are taken from the Sophie & Lili Instagram feed.

Advent Calendars. Time to start planning!

Ferm Living advent calnedar

December is still six weeks away, and I’m refusing to start thinking about Christmas just yet (I saw the Christmas decorations up on Oxford street earlier this week and it didn’t seem possible! Can it really be that time of year already?!). But… I do love Advent calendars — it’s one of my favourite Christmas traditions.

I saw this cool Ferm Living advent calendar (above) at Cissy Wears earlier this week and love it! (It’s actually what has inspired this post.)

Maileg advent calendar

We have the Maileg advent calendar (as shown above) and it’s a similar concept with little pockets for presents on each day. I start collecting little gifts and knick knacks around this time of year, and then come December 1st, the kids take turn unwrapping each day. It’s such a fun and exciting way to celebrate the run-up to Christmas.

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I also love the idea Meta wrote about, with little paper bags hanging along the stair railing. So fun and festive!

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And lastly, there’s the wonderful idea from Mo who wraps up christmas-themed books every year for a Christmas book Advent Calendar. Such a great idea!

Anyway, I thought I would share all these ideas now… before it’s too late to prepare. The next six weeks will zip by I’m sure!

Courtney x

Darling, handmade Waldorf dolls by Stellabyrosa

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When I was giving the pillowcase stamping workshop at the Yvestown Fair / Snor Festival a few weeks ago, my eyes kept wandering away to the Stellabyrosa stall next to me, full of the most delicate and wonderful Waldorf dolls. Rosa, the creator of the dolls, told me about how she couldn’t find the right kind of ‘natural’ dolls when her girls were little, and how she started making her own. I just completely fell in love with each and every doll at her stand — they are all so full of character!

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You can see how much work and love Rosa puts in to each doll. They come fully dressed and are made from 100% Dutch cotton jersey in the traditional Waldorf style. Eyes and mouths are hand embroidered, the hair is made of soft mohair and the doll is stuffed with cleaned and carded organic Dutch sheepwool. Cheeks are coloured with beeswax crayon. They have movable arms and legs, and come fully dressed (all the clothes are beautiful and handmade by Rosa). One doll takes her three days to make!

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I fell so deeply in love with the dolls, that I got one for each of my girls. I also couldn’t resist the beautiful dolls bed, which is made by hand by Rosa’s father and is dressed in gorgeous bedlinen and pillows made by by Rosa. It is all so perfect! My girls love their dolls, and Casper does too, so I just ordered one for him as well (he’s turing 2 on Tuesday!).

xxx Esther

 

Learning to weave on a peg loom

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weaving loom

My sister just gave Ivy a Peg Loom weaving kit and it’s been really sweet watching Ivy learn to weave this summer. She’s intent on making herself a little handbag, which is one of the projects recommended in the loom kit. I’m kind of hoping we can buy some pretty yarns and make some weaved wall hangings, perhaps with some driftwood found on the beach (I was feeling inspired yesterday when I saw this photo on Instagram). In either case, it’s a great summertime project (for both of us).  The PegLoom kit comes with everything you need to get started, including yarn and a weaving needle.

x Courtney

Dinosaur / Skeleton Memory Game

dinosaur_memory_2Do you sometimes play memory games with your children? And do you win? I honestly have trouble beating my kids! I remember that as a child, I loved playing Memory with adults, because I could actually beat them. I wonder, is it true that children have a better (short term) memory than grown-ups?

dinosaur_memory1Anyway, I recently got this cool Dinosaur / Skeleton Memory game, and it’s so fun. We love playing (and of cours Pim beats me all the time) — and at the same time we learn the names of all the dinosaurs. Which is a crucial triviality, especially if you’re a mum of boys!

xxx Esther

PS Another game I love playing with my children (and they beat me all the time too)!

Sweet vegetables from Mamma Couture

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How darling are these handmade vegetables from Mamma Couture? I love the different materials and shapes, and the sweet details like the little face on the peas. There are 13 different vegetables that come in their own fabric carrying bag, and the vegetables are available to buy separately as well. So pretty and so fun for the children! Ava loves cooking and grocery shopping for her doll family these days, and she agrees that these vegetables make a perfectly healthy dolls diet.

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Cambridge mum Eva, a passionate sewer and professional pattern cutter, is the creative wonder behind Mamma Couture. Eva collects materials from all over the world, creates her own original patterns, and sews every piece by hand. The production is always limited to a few exclusive pieces, and each piece is made individually, and thus unique. Besides her darling vegetables, she also makes adorable dolls, designed to bring comfort and be loved by children of all ages. So sweet!

xxx Esther

Kid Libs, Mad Libs for kids

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My kids discovered Mad Libs for the first time this holiday and now I’m wondering what took me so long to introduce them! The giggles coming from the kids’ table are so, so cute. Not to mention, they now know the difference between a verb and an adverb, a noun and a plural noun.

The kids have been playing with the Kid Libs version which are great for kids aged seven and up. And the nice thing about the game is that it can be played by as many people as you want. I’ve even caught Easton playing on his own and then laughing at his stories! We have a little road trip coming up this weekend and I’m planning on bringing a few Kid Libs with us in the car — I think it will be the perfect thing to entertain a captive car audience. You can buy Kid Libs Mad Libs from Amazon (US and UK ).

x Courtney

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