Hair style: twisties

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Twisties (or side buns) have been my super-quick hairdo solution for my girls since Sara started to have hair long enough to work with (and that took years). They’re just so quick and easy and always look cute, even when they’re completely crooked (I actually like them better that way).

twisties_3 twisties_4 They’re so quick and easy to make. Just brush and divide the hair roughly in two (I personally don’t like the parting to be too straight). Then, start twisting the hair until it automatically starts to roll up.

twisties_5 twisties_6 twisites_8 Keep twisting and rolling up the hair until the ends. Secure with an elastic band. Same procedure for the other side, and voila!

twisties_2 twisties_1 It’s cute to add little clips with ribbons (the cute ones in Ava’s hair are from Analiv), or tie ribbons around the buns. If you have the time, of course.

xxx Esther

PS All the photos are taken by my friend Maud Fontein!

 

Oli&Carol natural rubber bath toys

Oli&Carol natural rubber bath toys Over the years I’ve learned that bath toys should not have a hole. Even though you’re a clean person (which you are, of course), there will eventually grow a nasty, black substance inside that toy. Also, independent of their age it seems, children love to put everything they find in the bath into their mouth. So bath toys are best made of a natural rubber.

Enter the new label Oli&Carol, launched by two sisters from Barcelona aged 15 and 20 (15 and 20!!!), which offers the most darling rubber toys, without a hole, and made from 100% pure latex and painted with food grade, non-toxic dyes.

oli&carol natural rubber bath toys Oli&Carol natural rubber bath toys I really love the sweet, retro designs that the girls came up with — simple ‘paper’ boats, cool beetle cars, fruity teething rings, the original rubber ducks, etc. My personal favourites are the red toadstools — I love the look of them in our bathroom (and my kids love playing with them!).

xxx Esther

Pregnancy Yoga DVD by Nadia Narain

Nadia's pregnancy yoga

I’ve mentioned Nadia before (here), and in that post I wrote a little bit about how she supported me through my pregnancy with Marlow and how she transformed the way I view childbirth. I am certain it is because of her yoga classes and support that I was able to give birth in a way I had always dreamed about doing. Nadia’s classes are both empowering and beautiful, offering both the emotional tools as well as physical endurance to feel strong, grounded and capable of giving birth.

I’m actually just about to head over to one of her (non pregnancy) classes this evening (!), but I wanted to quickly write to let you know that her new pregnancy dvd is finally out and I’m so excited to share about it with all of you lucky pregnant mamas. Her Everyday Yoga dvd is awesome (my husband does 20 minutes of yoga with her dvd nearly every morning before work!), and is such an easy way to squeeze in yoga from your home whenever it is convenient. How wonderful for pregnant mothers to be able to practice yoga in the same way, from the comfort of your home and without having to pay for each class.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!
Courtney x

Room decór & accessories from Little Cloud

Little Cloud accessories
Marlow wearing headband
Marlow on her bed
The wall behind the girls’ bed was feeling a bit bare, and I was trying to think of what to hang there when I discovered these sweet name wire signs from Little Cloud. I ordered one for each of the girls and I think they look so sweet hanging on that wall. (It also, conveniently, put an end to the nightly arguments over which side of the bed they sleep on! Now they just want to sleep under their name!)

Little Cloud has the prettiest collection of bedroom decorations (cushions, garlands, mobiles…) which make really lovely baby gifts, as well as a sweet collection of hair accessories for girls. Marlow was playing on her bed yesterday morning and I happened to snap a few photos while she sat still enough to capture. I’m really relishing these mornings with just Marlow at home while the big kids are at school because I know these days are limited. (My other kids started nursery school at 2½, but I just can’t bring myself to sign her up yet… or ever! Haha!)

Courtney x

Marlow’s wearing the Liberty bow headband in the photos above, and her pretty chambray dress is from Velveteen

Aether Cone, a Thinking Music Player

Cone Thinking Music PlayerI’m sure every family is the same, but we love a bit of a swing in ours. Very often, after breakfast or dinner, we turn up the volume and dance in our living room. It’s crazy! We all join in, and it’s just so much fun. And very often, we end up with a big fat group hug in the end.

Also, sometimes when I’ve had a busy and difficult day, and I feel stressed and tired and my patience is low, it helps to get up and move, to be crazy, and sing along. Music surely is medication for the soul.

casper dancing on cone music player dancing children

It has recently become much easier for our children to initiate their own dancing because the awesome Aether Cone entered our house. The Aether Cone is not only a striking music player (in fact the most beautiful looking one I’ve ever seen), it’s also incredibly easy to understand and to work. Not only easy for me (too many buttons and screens put me off completely), but really handy for the kids as well! The only thing they need to do, is press the center button and ask out loud for any artist, song, or radio. Within seconds, the Cone will be playing their choice and our family will be in full swing!

dance2 dance3

And last weekend, my dad was here, and he just had the best of times with the Cone as well. He kept thinking of song and artists from his childhood (the early sixties), and voila — the Cone followed his commands without fail. Just to indicate how simple and fun it is to work with!

I’ve also understood that the more we use the Cone, the better it will get at playing the songs we love. I’m currently writing this with some lovely random background music in the background — I just took the Cone into my office (it’s portable with an 8-hour rechargeable battery). On the associated app on my phone I read that right now I’m listening to Isobel Campbell, a Scottish singer-songwriter. Nice suggestion, I must say!

xxx Esther

PS This post is sponored by Aether, a company we respect for making beautifully crafted products that use powerful technology and simple, natural controls to make everyday moments nicer.

A personal uniform

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I just read this article about a woman who has decided to wear a “uniform” to work everyday, which was originally written for Harper’s Bazaar. I thought it would be fun to share, just because this morning I had yet again the work clothes panic: what should I wear? My daily morning routine involves getting the kids up and dressed and fed and getting myself ready for work. The amount of times I don’t know what to wear while I am standing in front of a cupboard full of clothes, seriously running out of time, is ridiculous.

I really fancy the idea of a work wardrobe that fits everything! How much easier would my life be? A girl I once worked with had a similar idea: she always wore a black top and a patterned skirt come rain or shine. She always looked so put together and it worked for every occasion.

My problem is that I worry I might get quite bored… but perhaps the practicality of the “uniform” would outweigh my boredom. What do you think? Do you have a work uniform that makes your day easier or do you just freestyle?

– Emilie

Sweet Smokks Summer Dresses (for mama and daughter)

smokks summer dresses

There’s something a little bit cheesy about matching mums and daughters outfits, but also something incredibly cute. Definitely cute. And especially these dresses from NYC based label Smokks. : )

smokks summer dresses smokks summer dresses

Hallie started Smokks a few years ago, after her husband dressed their daughter in her pyjamas for a ballet graduation, while she was away on vacation — because, as he said, he couldn’t deal with all of the buttons, zips and otherwise complicated dresses in his daughter’s wardrobe. I must say this sounds very familiar; my husband would totally do the same thing (or maybe, he would simply dress her in her jeans like he always does). Anyway — Hallie figured there was a market for effortless girls’  clothing: no zips, no buttons, no ribbons. Just a very cute and simple dress, a uniform, almost.

Smokks are, as the name implies, old-fashionedly smocked, but definitely have a modern feel to them. They are, as said, simple, but not actually as simple as it seems. I can tell that a lot of thought went into these dresses! There are deep pockets for treasures. The neckline is wide and comfortable, but flattering. The length (with royal hem) and the low arm hole means these dresses can be worn for years — layered with legging or tights and a cardigan for colder days. They are totally cute for everyday wear and play, but can definitely also be used for more formal occasions.

Hallie messengered over some dresses for our girls to try when we were in NY a few weeks ago. Since her biggest girls’ size is a size 9, she sent over a women’s size S for Sara, which is still a bit big on her… Haha, lucky me! I love it! : )

xxx Esther

PS I love Ava’s curled toes in the photos above. The photos were taken by Sara, by the way — roles reversed!

Tuesday Tips: Transitioning from one to two…

two boys

We’ve had lots of requests from readers to share tips on dealing with the transition from one child to two (or from two to three, etc.). It’s a tricky one for me to answer because it was 8 years ago that my second was born and my memory is foggy, but I wanted to raise the topic as a discusion and to try to gather tips from readers for readers.

I’ve said it before, but for me the most difficult period in the past ten years was the three months after my second was born. I found it so, so overwhelming to go from one baby to two — to have two small children with completely different needs, both of them needing me at the same time!  I just wasn’t prepared to be tugged in two directions like that and I think I cried nearly every single evening, both from pure exhaustion and from a sense of relief that I had survived another difficult day. I also remember wondering how anyone could possibly have more than two children! : )

My first two are only 22 months apart and my second was a colicky baby, so I think it was an especially tricky time. But I also think that there is something about this transition that is different from others, and that once you learn your way and master the multi-tasking, it’s actually not that much more difficult to go on to have a third or fourth baby. It’s a bit like juggling – once you learn how to juggle, it’s not that much more difficult to add another ball to the mix. (At least I found this to be the case — I would be interested to hear how others have found it.)

Here are some simple tips I can remember, but again I would really love to hear from mums who have done this more recently:

  • Cut yourself some slack. Don’t worry about how tidy your house is, don’t feel guilty if you cook scrambled eggs for dinner two nights in a row, don’t worry if your kids aren’t bathed every day — everything will be perfectly fine despite not being ‘perfect’.
  • Try not to feel guilty about the lack of time you give to your eldest child. Focus instead on how important it is to teach your child how to share the attention, and even more importantly on how wonderful it will be for him/her to have a sibling to play with as soon as the baby gets a bit older. (My second child started walking at 8 months and my boys were playing together from a really early stage. I remember seeing them playing together, or watching my eldest push the youngest one on the swings, and thinking that it was definitely ALL worth it!)
  • Use the baby feeding down-time to your advantage. Make good use of all that time on the sofa by reading books to your older child or just simply sitting still and talking to them, asking questions, or playing simple games while you feed the baby. (We had a stack of flash cards sitting next to our sofa and I taught Easton his letters while nursing Quin. It was something he really enjoyed, and it meant that nursing Quin didn’t have to mean time away from Easton.)
  • Allow your eldest to be as independent as possible. Velcro shoes and elastic trousers that your child can do and un-do himself are so smart. Also, keep toys in baskets on the floor, so they learn to access their toys on their own and tidy them up too. Buy step stools for the bathroom sinks so he can wash his own hands, etc.
  • Get out of the house, even though it’s difficult. I have always found that a simple walk around the block can do wonders for your mind, and that running small errands can make you feel like wonder woman! It might be tricky to get two small children out of the house and it might take twice as long as it did before, but once you do it, it feels so good and you feel so proud of yourself for putting in the effort.
  • Make friends with other mums who are in a similar boat. Esther lived just down the road from me when our second babies were born, and it was SO nice to be able to have someone to talk to and share tips and tricks.  Sometimes it’s just nice to admit to someone else that your day was really hard or that you’re feeling especially exhausted or that you haven’t been romantic with your husband in months, or whatever it might be. Most often, she’ll be feeling the same way and it’s nice to know you’re not alone.
  • Depending on the age of your older child, it’s probably a good idea to invest in a good double buggy, preferably one that isn’t too wide to fit into shop doors and one that folds easily to fit into your car/train/plane, etc. (We loved the Phil & Teds double buggy, but I’m sure there are loads of other great ones on the market now.)
  • Remind yourself how quickly time passes and try to enjoy those precious first months of babyhood. It took me until my third baby to really understand what my parents were saying all those years when they told me to stop willing away the time and to enjoy even the sleepless nights and busy days. It really is so true — you blink and they are big!

I hope these simple tips are helpful. Please, please share any tips you can add.

Courtney x

The photo above is of my boys when Quin was around six months old and  — the first time that Easton could push him on the swings. This was a turning point for me when things started to feel easier and when I could finally see the benefit of having two kids so close in age.

DIY: Dipped Wooden Spoons

Dipped Wooden Spoonds DIY

I’ve been eyeing the dipped wooden spoons for a while now and the penny pincher in me decided to make something similar on her own instead of buying them. And they turned out great, plus the feeling of making something with my own two hands is priceless (when it succeeds anyway).

This project is also one of the easiest but it takes a little more drying time. You can use some old wooden spoons lying around the kitchen already or buy new (I got a bunch of them from IKEA).

Dipped Wooden Spoonds DIY

The items you need are:

Wooden Spoons
Paint
Tape (I used Washi Tape)
Sealer
Medium (optional)

I wanted the make the paint as durable as possible so I used both the medium and the sealer. The medium I used is for textile and it worked great!

Dipped Wooden Spoonds DIY

1. Tape the line with a tape (I use washi tape because it’s the easiest to work with)

Dipped Wooden Spoonds DIY
2. Mix the paint with the medium (if you decided to use one) in 1:1 ratio and paint two coats (decide on weather you want to also paint the round end of the spoon) then wait for about 5 minutes and take the tape off before the second coat is completely dry – that prevents the paint to chip while taking off the tape!

Dipped Wooden Spoonds DIY

You can use a low jar or a glass to dry them in but put the spoon face down!

Dipped Wooden Spoonds DIY

3. Let them dry for a couple hours, put the tape on again and paint a coat or even two of sealer. And if you want the color to be really durable set the oven to about 150C and “bake” them for about 20 minutes. Turn the oven off and take them out only after the oven gets cold. Leave them rest over night before use.

Dipped Wooden Spoonds DIY

4. I decided to give the spoons a little facial as well and made them Beeswax Wood Polish after this recipe. That made all the difference! You simply rub on warm conditioner, let it sit for about an hour and wipe off the excess. You also don’t need to complicate as much as I tend to do and just buy one.

You can also do some stripes, dots, heart or other embellishments. I wanted to keep my first batch simple but will definitely play around more with the second one. Maybe a little bronze ends?

-Polona

To read more from Polona, go to her cute blog Baby Jungle!

New Spring/Summer collection at HATCH

HATCH maternity wear
The new spring/summer collection at HATCH has arrived and it’s as pretty as ever! So many pieces that are both stylish and comfortable. Whether you’re running errands or going out on the town, and in fact whether you’re pregnant or not, the clothes are easy to wear and flattering at the same time.
Hatch spring collection
The thing that’s brilliant about the HATCH maternity label is that it’s designed to suit and flatter a pregnant body, and yet the pieces work and look great even after pregnancy. Because let’s face it, our bodies change after we’ve had a baby (and, at least in my case, change forever) — our hips become wider, our bellies aren’t quite as flat, our breasts…. (sigh). The clothes from HATCH are designed to adapt and flatter with these changes in mind.
HATCH3
I’m especially loving the jumpsuits in this season’s collection as well as these comfortable-looking trousers. And, while I know it’s an investment, I really like the cool cocoon shape of the trench coat — a classic style that can be worn for years, pregnant or not.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone!

Courtney x

The sweetest hair bows from Free Babes

super cute hair bows
hair bows from FreeBabes
FreeBabes
Free Babes hair bows
Aren’t these just the prettiest hair bows? They’re all handmade by Etsy shop owner, Hillary Denham, who reached out to us recently from Colorado, USA. I just love all the different colours and fabrics, and I also love that the little schoolgirl bows come in two-packs, which is perfect for when your girls wear braids or little side buns (like the top photo).  So sweet!

Courtney x

Vriendenboek (A Friends’ Book)

Esther van de Paal vriendenboek Snor vriendenboek Esther van de Paal Julie Summerbelle Snor(All photo credits: Yvonne Eijkenduijn of Yvestown)

I’m super proud to announce a little project I’ve been working on with my friend Julie Marabelle (the super talented lady behind the well known brand Famille Summerbelle) and Snor, the coolest publishers here in the Netherlands: we made a Friends’ Book!

vriendenboek Esther van de PaalNow, if you’re not Dutch (or Belgian, or German) you probably have no idea what a Friends’ Book is… Our ‘Vriendenboek‘ (Friends’ Book) consists of 31 double pages with pre-printed questions — one to be filled out by the owner of the book (the ‘This is me’ section), the rest is meant for 30 friends and/or classmates. There are passport-like questions (like name, address, length, hobbies, sort hair, favourite school subject, etc), but also more creative questions such as ‘What is the nicest thing you and I did together’, ‘Draw your dream house’ or ‘This is what my bed looks like’. There’s  space for a photo, which is carried by a character in underwear that can be dressed with the cool clothes stickers that come with the book.

vriendenboek Esther van de PaalThe book is typically aimed at children of the age of 4 to 12 (primary school age), and the idea is that it’s a record of a specific year in your childhood, a record of your friends, but also of the zeitgeist of a specific era. My dad just emptied out his basement and he dropped of some boxes of stuff my mum had kept for me, and coincidentally I found my own friends’ book from 1984/85. It’s just brilliant reading the answers! Some examples: best film: Annie, E.T., Ghost Busters, First Blood (!). Best pop group: Wham, Duran Duran, UB40. What I want to be: Farmer, Housewife, Truckdriver, Horse Stall Cleaner. And goes on. So good! I wonder what has become of all of those childhood friends. I hope they are living their dreams! : )

vriendenboek friend's book vriendenboek06 vriendenboek friends' bookJulie and I have been brainstorming and designing to come up with a modern, cool and good-looking friendship book filled with fun and interesting questions, and it is finally here. And I’m so happy with how it turned out! The way the paper feels, the way the colours turned out, the quality of the stickers in the back — it’s all beautiful!

vriendenboek13 vriendenboek friends bookAt the moment, the Friends’ Book is only available in Dutch… You can get it here for shipment in the Netherlands, or here for international deliveries. And hopefully it will soon be available in English, and other languages as well!

xxx Esther

PS All the beautiful photos above are by my friend Yvonne from Yvestown. Thank you Yvonne (and your neighbours Josefien and Pauline, such sweet models)! And a big thank you to my Dutch blogging friends Bubbelmint, Oh Marie!, Moodkids and UrbanMoms for their lovely reviews. Julie also wrote a nice blogpost about our book, with great photos, here.

Bobo Choses — not just for kids!

Bobo Choses for mamas
Bobo Choses_jumping
Bobo Choses
I think by now we all know (and love!) Bobo Choses. Their collections every season are both fun and stylish with playful graphics and easy, wearable styles. But did you know they’ve recently come out with some pieces for women too?

I know it’s a little cheesy to match your children, but I have to admit that my girls think it’s really the coolest thing ever to match their mama. When we were in Portugal this past week the girls asked me every day to wear my yellow stripy skirt like theirs! So I finally gave in and we wore our matching outfits on the last day of our holiday, and it was really quite fun. Some silly photos here to show for it. : )

Courtney x

My Dad’s a Birdman by David Almond

My Dads a Birdman 1
My Dads a Birdman 3

My kids are aged 8, 6 and 3. They still all enjoy picture books but the two older ones really like me to also read chapter books to them before bed. It can be quite a challenge to find ones they like – they really hate anything scary and are sensitive to creatures, monsters, even some kinds of wizardry – basically any stories with evil as well as good are just not up their street. It can be tricky to find stories aimed at their age-group without any baddies!

My Dad’s a Birdman is a great find.

Set in the North of England, Lizzie’s Dad is preparing to enter the Great Human Bird Competition and her Auntie Doreen is getting cross about it. You see Lizzie’s Dad is taking his entry quite literally – building wings of feathers, eating flies and feathering his nest. You see Lizzie and her Dad are getting over the death of Lizzie’s ‘Mam’ and that can be tough on grown-ups as well as kids.

The story is funny and silly but the grown-up reading this will see a sadness in this story of grief, how we deal with it and how sometimes, just sometimes, kids become the grown-ups.

My Dads a Birdman 2

Lizzie is a wonderful character with a huge empathy & understanding. Whilst she has the intelligence to understand her father’s actions she can also see the love of her Auntie Doreen condoning them. She is accepting of other people’s coping mechanisms and the book is great at demonstrating our differences with dealing with difficult situations.

But have no fear of worrying your children with stories of a mother no longer there – my children didn’t really pick up on this ‘back-story’ until we had nearly finished the book, they were too engrossed with the story of this fantastical competition.

Polly Dunbar (who illustrated the lovely Penguin ) provides soft and gentle illustrations, which make this book perfect for children (like mine) moving from picture to chapter book. Available from Amazon (US and UK).

-Mo x

Chateau Vaux le Vicomte

VauxThis weekend, there were a lot more smiles in Paris than usual – spring has finally arrived! The trees are starting to look just a little bit greener and the thermometer is slowly reaching 21 degrees – the magic number when it is possibly to sit outside in a T-shirt.

The terraces of all the cafés in Paris were packed this weekend, so we decided to venture a little bit further afield and jumped on the train for a day trip to one of the lesser known chateaux close to Paris, Vaux-le-Vicomte.

True, it is not the easiest chateau to get to. If you are taking the train, you need to jump on a commuter train to Melun (about 50 minutes outside of Paris) and then either take a shuttle bus or a taxi. But the trip is absolutely worth it.

Vaux4

Vaux-le-Vicomte was build slightly before Versailles and the gardens were landscaped by the same landscape architect, Le Notre. Rumour has it that, when Louis XIV visited Vaux-le-Vicomte, he was so jealous of the beautiful chateau,  he promptly threw the owner, his finance minister Le Fouquet, into jail (arrested by no other than D’Artagnan, head of the Musketeers). Le Fouquet was then kept in prison for the rest of his life together with the Man with the Iron Mask. All pretty exciting stuff, don’t you think?

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Vaux2The grounds are very easy to explore and the highlight of the trip is the visit to the chateau, where you can rent period costumes for children. We just went up to the reception desk and rented the costumes for 4 euros each. There is truly nothing better than dressing up as a Musketeer or a Renaissance Lady whilst exploring a chateau.

It is a much more accessible chateau for families than Versailles is; it is so much smaller and there aren’t really any crowds. I really do recommend it, especially if you need to get away from the bustle of Paris!

– Emilie

PS. Apologies for the blurry photos, I just snapped these photos on my phone!

Tuesday Tips: how to survive the first months of pregnancy

how to survive the first months of pregnancyI’ve been very lucky during my pregnancies — they have always been fairly easy. I was (of course?) extremely tired in the first months, and feeling nauseous here and there (especially when brushing my teeth or when I smelled the exhausts of cars), but overall, I have actually always really enjoyed those nine months.

But it’s not so easy for all of us — over half of the pregnant women suffer from worse pregnancy sickness. Feeling nauseous during the entire day, vomiting even. (And then there’s Hyperemesis Gravidarum, a rare but extreme form of morning sickness, characterised by uncontrollable nausea, vomiting, and dehydration.)

Our lovely Helen, who runs the Babyccino Kids Shopping Portal, is currently 21 weeks pregnant with her third baby, a little girl. (See photo above!) I’m so excited to have a little baby joining our Babyccino Kids team this summer!

Helen did suffer from pregnancy sickness until a few weeks ago, so I asked her to share her experiences and tips to cope below. (I would love for you to share your advice in the comment field below as well — it’s always so helpful to know that you’re not alone!) So here goes:

– For me, the mornings were the best. Around 10ish the nausea would kick in, getting worse through the day to a peak in the evening. Everyone is difference but ‘morning’ can be a bit of a misconception. If you do suffer the classic symptoms in the morning, apparently having some crackers on the bedside table, ready to eat before you rise, is the way forward.

– For me morning sickness lasted past the first trimester, until week 17/18, but many people feel relief as they get to the second trimester. If you really struggling, finding you can’t cope and especially if you’re vomiting often, don’t suffer in silence and don’t be afraid to go to the doctor.

Eating little and often. Plain, not too oily and definitely not too sugary. Lots of plain carbs seem to be what the body wants — bananas, avocado on toast, plain toast.

Fresh air

Rest (!)

Drink a lot. Helps avoid headaches too.

Ginger. Specifically fresh ginger and lemon tea helped me. (Peel and thinly slice ginger, pour boiling water over and add some slices of lemon.) Ginger beer or ale is a perfect treat, especially if you do manage to make it out to a social function and don’t fancy ordering mineral water all night. And although some can find it a bit much, but I found that mint tea helped to settle my stomach.

– For me the biggest challenge of the first few months – especially when it’s not your first – is getting dinner on the table. Thinking about food is awful. And then you have to eat it! Make life easier for yourself with services that provide you and your family with healthy food options – be it a service providing home-cooked meals or visits to your local deli.

Floradix (http://www.salusuk.com/products/floradix.html). It could be a coincidence but I have suffered less from exhaustion this time (and I discovered floradix after I had my second baby).

– If you are working mum and IF you feel comfortable with it – you could tell your employer in confidence in these early days. Often we don’t want to tell before 12 weeks because what if it goes wrong? What then? With the knowledge of your situation your employer can help make sure you don’t get any additional concerns in those first tough few months and frankly, if things don’t end up happening as you hoped, you’ll probably need to tell them at that point anyway!

Thank you, Helen!

xxx Esther

So Awesome Wallet cards

So Awesome wallet flash cards so awesome alphabet cards These So Awesome wallet cards don’t just looks beautiful, they’re also super practical. A selection of cards the size of a credit card, made from durable, easy-to-clean, biodegradable and kid-safe (non-toxic, food-safe) plastic, are kept together by a re-closable ring. The size makes them super easy to throw in your handbag or nappy bag. They can be kept together and read as a book, or they can also be played with individually. So fun! I have found them especially handy when we’re traveling, or in restaurants. Casper and I like to play with the Color and Shape cards — I ask, what colour, and he says ‘blue’. For all the colours. ; )

xxx Esther

 

 

A Spy Birthday Party for an 8-Year-Old

Elias Spy Party 1

This year Elias wanted a ‘Magic’ birthday party. Not being a member of the magic circle myself I was thrown a little by how I was going to pull that off – so I started to brainstorm other possibilities with him – we decided upon a ‘Spy Party’ and I immediately got Pinteresting.

There were so many brilliant ideas that I just knew this party would be fun to organize – and it really was but I did have to be more organized then I usually am for parties and with 8-year-olds I knew I couldn’t pull the wool over their eyes – the spy games would need to be good.

Elias Spy Party 2

First we sent out an invitation inviting his guests to attend Spy School. Included in the invite was a fake moustache (to ensure no one suspected them) and a Cipher Wheel to decode the secret password. I downloaded a template for the Cipher Wheel here and just ‘re-branded’ it a little.

Elias Spy Party 3

Then it was time to plan the actual party! We decided to break down the party into 8 parts – 7 tasks for the ‘spies’ to complete before the final challenge – this was the order of the day:
Arrival – Spies are given their identification tags (1) and scanned (2) to ensure they are not bringing any weapons into Spy School. They then needed to choose a Spy Name by picking one word from one jar and another from another and then this was stuck into their ‘fake’ passports – I got these ideas from this great blog post and they even had downloadable printables! – Inside the passports was a list of the tasks they would need to complete – I stickered them as they passed each level (but actually I’d recommend using a stamp for that bit – the stickering was a little fiddly!).

Task 1 – Observation: My husband had a lot of fun setting up a table with a Playmobil ‘scene’ on it – he tried to make it quite detailed. The kids were told to study the scene as they would need to observe if there had been changes to it later on. We set this up in our living room were we did the arrival and it was a great game for them to be getting on with whilst we waited for everyone.
Task 2 – Interrogation: Downstairs into our cellar (usually a place for laundry but on this day it was Spy HQ!). Another idea from the above blog – each kid had a character, animal or famous person stuck on their backs – they had to walk round and ask each other questions to try and find out who they were – but the answers could only be yes or no – the kids found this one pretty hard and we had to give them some helpful tips but they all managed in the end.
Task 3 – Code Creating and Cracking: We taught them a way to write a hidden message by writing or drawing something small with a light blue crayon and then scribbling all over it with a red crayon so you can hardly see the blue message. Then take a sheet of red acetate and hold it over the message and you will see the blue message clearly. They had to create a message – then swap with a friend and try and discover what had been written or drawn.
Back to Task 1 – Now we went back to the observation table – in the meantime my husband had made 6 changes and they had to discover what as a team. They loved this one.
Task 4 – With 7 boys and a girl we knew by now they’d need some running about so this was Time Trials. I got my husband to take the kids over to the park to do some races for 15 minutes. Whilst they were gone I roped my Mum and Dad into setting up task 5 …
Task 5 – Laser maze. When the kids arrived back we made them wait outside the door and explained the next task – getting through a laser-maze without breaking it. Our hallway is a perfect corridor for this – we used red crepe-paper and washi-tape to create a maze for the kids to climb through – it looked great and the kids really enjoyed that surprise to come back to – tip if you do this: put some lasers very low down – the kids quite quickly worked out they could slide through underneath most of our maze.
Task 6 – the controversial one … Target Practise. I have never bought these ‘exciting’ Nerf guns for Elias although whenever he goes to anyone’s house who has one he really loves them. I’m just a pacifist and don’t like boys playing war but … they do anyway – my boys often take sticks or their fingers and shoot eachother. I remembered how much fun I had with water-guns as a kid and knew that I would be making my son’s day if he got to have a play with some of those ‘exciting’ guns. So I bought the littlest one I could find (3) and a second one with a laser (4) (because that seemed quite Spy like) and we set up a small target (5) back down in the cellar – they all got a go with the laser gun first and had to try and score 100 points on the target and then they had a go with the small pistol – there were strict rules to not shoot at fellow spies and actually they all really enjoyed it. Elias had about 5 days of carrying these guns around with him after his party and now they are at the bottom of a toy box somewhere and don’t seem to be too exciting anymore – maybe he got the shooting out of his system for now!
Task 7 – Bomb detonation. By now the kids were ready for some food and drink – I made chocolate brownies and ‘bomb’ biscuits and we put sparklers in the brownies to detonate them. (Whilst they were eating I sent my Dad and husband on a little mission to get something ready for the next stage).

Elias Spy Party 4
Task 8 – The final challenge. I bought out a suitcase that was locked with a 4 number padlock. The kids were told there was another bag inside this one with a 3 digit padlock on it and that their party bags were inside the 2nd bag. In order to get their party bags they would have to crack the codes. They were given a ‘Top Secret’ box with some helpful tools inside. There was:
● A clip board with a pen and paper with 7 boxes ready to input the numbers as they found them.
● A piece of fabric with 8 pins in it.
● A couple of code-crackers – A number code, an alpha code, a piece of the red acetate.
● A mobile phone – yes an actual phone (can you imagine how excited they were)
…and this is where the genius of this task was – again credit due entirely to this blog who introduced me to QR codes and this generator. It was really simple to set up; I could just input the questions to our ‘treasure hunt’ and then fix the QR codes up so the kids could scan them to get their next clue – they felt like real proper spies!!! Just a little tip – when you create the codes I copied them into a document and printed them and just wrote at the top of each code where I needed to hang it – this won’t ruin the clues for the kids as it will only say the location they have already reached but it will help you to remember which clue to pin up where! At each location the kids got a spy task to crack to get the number and the next clue where to go. Most of these clues we did as code-cracking tasks but my favourite one (and this is what my Dad and husband were busy with whilst we ate cake) was the bomb detonation – we filled our trampoline with 50 black balloons and the kids had to pop them to find the number – it was a little scary having 8 kids on a trampoline holding pins but luckily no injuries and lots of fun!
So they cracked the code and secured their party loot – each got a pair of spy-glasses, invisible ink pen, note book and some popping candy.
We were shattered at the end – it was full-on but I think it was the most fun party we’ve ever done!

(1) I bought these clips to create ID tags
(2) This scanner was not too expensive and really added to the official feel of entering Spy School – the kids have also enjoyed playing with it since.
(3) We bought this Nerf Gun and this (4) laser version and this is actually a very nice (5) target practise

‘Smartypants: Pete in School’ by Maira Kalman

Smartypants book

There is so much I want to tell you about Maira Kalman. She is my current ‘book-creator-crush’ – I have loved everything I have read by her – adult books or kids books.

Maira Kalman was born in Tel Aviv but moved to New York aged four. She is an author, an illustrator, a curator and just a brilliant, brilliant voice and mind. She has a style and stream of consciousness like no other author I have ever experienced and as everything she writes is also illustrated the whole experience of looking through a Maira Kalman book is an energizing joy – her books always make me laugh but can be thought-provoking and also touching to draw a tear.

Smartypants 2
Smartypants 3
The stories often don’t follow a clear path – you need to commit to her style and prepare to jump around a little but when you do you go on a journey which is just about as delicious as a salt-beef and pickle bagel – which brings me back to her Jewish / Bronx routes – which gives her work such a rich tone – I’m not sure you can be funny like Kalman unless you are Jewish and from the Bronx (but I may be wrong on that?).

So to choose a book to review was the hard thing here – I’m sure I’ll tell you about some more soon but I picked Smartypants: Pete in School because it is the book that makes my kids laugh loudest and what better reason to spread the love?

Pete is the dog of Poppy & Schmookie Wise – he eats everything. One day he turns up at school and starts causing havoc by eating his way through Poppy and Schmookie’s classes – until, called to the principal’s office, he eats a Big Book of Everything and ends up really smart …. The story is funny but the characters – Poppy, Schmookie, the teachers and of course Pete you will just love. Kalman, talks in asides (if she was on Instagram she’d be the hashtag queen!) and goes off on tangents, which lets us get to know these characters in a deeper way.

Smartypants 4

You can buy Smartypants: Pete in School here, but I warn you it could spark a book-buying-spree!

-Mo x

PS: If you want to know more about Maira Kalman you can hear her 2007 Ted Talk here (it’s perfect!) and books for grown-ups by her are The Principles of Uncertainty, which is a compilation of her columns for The New York Times. And the Pursuit of Happiness  is her year-long investigation into American democracy and lastly (my personal favourite) is My Favorite Things which was created to accompany her curation of the artifacts at the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. The book explores the significance of objects in our lives and combines personal objects and artifacts from the exhibition. Lovely.

Summertime simplicity, by Soor Ploom

Ivy in Soor Ploom
Ivy and Marlow wearing Soor Ploom
Ivy and Marlow in Soor Ploom
girls in Soor Ploom
Marlow_Soor Ploom
silly girls in Soor Ploom
Can we start talking about summer yet, or is it too soon?! At least we can start buying cute summery pieces in preparation for the warm, sunny days ahead, right?

Soor Ploom is one of my very favourite brands for girls and I think their pieces sum up those sweet, simple summer days in the most perfect of ways. The pieces are so effortlessly beautiful, breezy, and just so adorable — a perfect mix of gorgeous fabrics and simple, easy-to-wear shapes. Just look at this season’s collection — everything is just so, so pretty.

Soor Ploom SS15
girls outside in Soor Ploom
girls outside wearing Soor Ploom
green dress by Soor Ploom
Marlow outside wearing Soor Ploom

Photographer Sarah Winborn was in town from Berlin recently and stopped by to take some photos of the girls. I couldn’t help but dress them up in their new Soor Ploom pieces and pretend the weather was warmer than it actually was. ; ) I hope you don’t mind me sharing some (loads of!) photos from last week’s photoshoot.

The new Soor Ploom collection is up online and available in limited quantities. Ivy is wearing the Jade Philomela Dress and the Gingham Playsuit, and Marlow is wearing the Ines Romper in the pretty sunspot fabric.

Courtney x

All photos are by Sarah Winborn. You can view her website here and follow her on Instagram here.

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