Saturday, May 31, 2008

Bamboletta Dolls

Have I mentioned that Bamboletta Dolls are the absolute, most wonderful dolls in the world?

Arielle agrees. Here she is cuddling with her "Lizzie".

And, here is Linnea napping with "Baby".

The day that "Baby" arrived, I had just unwrapped the doll when Linnea woke up from her nap. She was so happy. The doll was custom made to look quite a bit like Linnea, and was the sweetest doll I'd ever seen. She went everywhere with us that day and for the first time in her life, Linnea slept cuddling a toy.

The only problem (which was totally unexpected) is that Arielle was completely jealous. So, I spent my WAHM savings and let her pick out her own doll at Natural Pod. In the past few months, Lizzie and Baby have become well-loved companions.

I don't think there are words to describe how wonderfully detailed these dolls are. The dolls are all handmade during nap times by work-at-home mom, Christina in Cobble Hill, BC -- located on the west coast of Canada. The name ‘Bamboletta’ means ‘little doll’ in Italian and is a term of endearment that Italian parents use for their children. This was Christina's father’s nickname for her throughout her childhood.

Christina uses only high quality, natural fabrics to make the dolls. She uses a thick cotton interlock from the Netherlands for their ’skin’. It hardly pills, it retains its shape and it is extremely soft. She stuffs the dolls using a wool from a farm about 10 minutes from where she lives. The hair is also made of wool. Christina describes herself as a yarn addict who loves nothing better then to rummage through yarn shops to find new and interesting yarns for her dolls' hair. She has her own source of gorgeous hand spun, hand dyed yarn that she uses in some of the dolls create a unique and special look, and she often mixes several types of yarns together to create a natural and funky look, that is also extra durable. I love the hair.

I wanted to show a few more of my favorite details, like Lizzie's belly button and underpants. But, Linnea ran off with the dolls. I did get a quick picture of Baby's sweet little felt shoe, Lizzie's sweater and some action shots.

The chocolate on Baby's shirt is courtesy of Linnea, and isn't included. But, the shirt is machine washable.

Bamboletta Dolls are available at Natural Pod (Canada), Mahar Dry Goods , and through Christina's Etsy store. Extra clothing is available here and at Natural Pod.

Tea Time!

For us, one of the hardest to find toys (and the one that gets the most use) has been a tea set. There are some absolutely lovely tea sets out there, but most of them are made in China or out of questionable materials. And, a certain little girl I know likes to throw things, so a beautiful porcelain tea set is going to have to wait a few years.

We started with wood. This wooden tea set ($28.99) from Erzi is cute and teeny tiny - perfect for little dolls or hungry bears. But, in the past few years, I've re-glued every part possible and it seems awfully expensive for two tiny cups and saucers and a tea pot. Also, since the parts do come off, they may be a choking hazard to children who put things in their mouths.

Our next tea set was a lovely enamel tea for three set ($44.95). It was a birthday gift, and the pieces are child-size rather than bear-size. But, unfortunately, it is made in China and is now sitting on a high up shelf looking pretty rather than being played with.

I was very happy when I found this Safe Plastic tea set from Gowi ($35.00).

It is made in Austria of phthalate-free, PVC-free plastic. It's just the right size. And, because it is plastic, it is perfectly fine with being used in the bath tub or in the sand box. In the picture, Arielle is making "sand tea" for the Arielle Cooking Show. She also loves being given a bit of bubble bath in a tub, so she can "wash dishes".

And it is great that there are so many uses for tea sets, because then we had a chance to review the recycled plastic cook set ($39.95) from Green toys. Green Toys also makes a smaller tea set, and ours is on its way.

We love Green Toys. The recycled plastic is PVC, BPA and phthalate free and it is made in the USA from recycled plastic bottles. The frying pan in the cook sey is a big favorite with both Linnea and Arielle, as is the pot which has a nice lid. I will update with action pictures very soon. This is our absolute favorite and I can't think of anything negative to say at all.

Other options

Another non-breakable option is this Crochet tea set ($30.00 - on sale) from Down To Earth Toys. It is made in the USA from 100% wool.

There are some great porcelain tea sets for older girls. I love the German tea sets at A Toy Garden.

Large Rose-Fairy tea set ($98.95)

Strawberry tea set ($74.95)

But my absolute favorite, the tea set of my toy dreams, is the Toadstool tea set ($140) which is handmade by artist Giana Eden. It is available at Mahar Dry Goods. I can just picture Mama Gnome serving tea to her fairytale guests. But, it not for us -- not for a long time.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Wooden Wagon - lots of new stuff and a discount code

I love the beautiful German toys at The Wooden Wagon, and they have offered us a discount code "TOYBOX10", good for 10% off your next order until the end of June.

New offerings at The Wooden Wagon include Fair Trade toys by Yellow Label Kids, wonderful Waldorf dolls by Heidi Hilscher of Germany, beautiful wooden puzzles and games, and a few especially nice stuffed animals.

Yellow Label Knit Cookies ($29.50)

This puzzle looks just right for a preschool-aged child who is just starting to enjoy more challenging puzzles. For younger children, there are simpler puzzle choices like the Bird Peg Puzzle ($18.50).

Continuing the bird theme is this Birds Stacking Tower ($32.50), which looks like a very versatile toy. It is on my shopping list because Linnea will love stacking the "Bwoidies" and saying "teet! teet!", while Arielle will use the individual pieces for more creative play.

The new Waldorf dolls from Germany are handmade and washable. They are gorgeous. Pippa Waldorf Doll ($155.00)

And the handmade Bunny Doll ($59.95) is pretty sweet, too.

For so many other treasures, more information and some of my favorite toys, check out our original store review for The Wooden Wagon. I have to go order my "Bwoidies".

Monday, May 26, 2008

Update! Spinny Speller from Doudou bebe!

I just had to tell you all what a huge hit the Spinny Speller has been with Jackson's teacher and classmates. Jackson had the words down pat so I took it in to share with his Pre-K class. The teacher and aide both raved about what a great learning tool it is. The kids loved sounding out new words and the teacher loved the one piece construction. No small pieces to lose in a busy classroom!

The Pre-K and Kindergarten teachers are planning on going in on an order to use in their classes. I love spreading the quality toy love. This wooden toy is made by Maple Landmark Woodcraft. They use sustainably harvested wood and any byproducts are reused locally.

I also have to show you a section of their site that impressed me. The mother-baby art offered here is just beautiful. Though they are not toys, I think they are simply lovely and just had to mention them.

One more note on Doudou bebe! I forgot to mention in my first post that the company donates a portion of heir proceeds to La Leche League Canada. In addition, their products aim to encourage breastfeeding. Love it!!!

Michelle has given us the following discount code, good for 10% off any of their Vermont made toys. In addition, orders over $50 are eligible for free shipping to the United States or within Canada. Thanks Michelle!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Spring! and Nature Play. We've been busy.

I have a few toy reviews that I've been working on - more great stuff from Natural Pod, and tea sets, dolls and blocks, but I wanted to share a bit of what we've been doing. Because, especially in spring, play is not all about toys.

We started our seeds for the garden. This is the third year that Arielle and I have done seeds, and Linnea's first year of "helping".

We use our fingers to poke little beds in the soil and then tuck the seeds in and say "good night". We check the soil every few days, and sometimes, we sing to the plants. Our first batch is ready to be planted as soon as the weather warms.

Here's the second batch. We planted basil, chives, tomatoes, peppers, sunflowers, squash and pumpkins. I bet the girls will be excited to eat veggies that they grew themselves.

We've also been spending time discovering the outdoors. For Linnea, everything is new. Simple activities like moving rocks from the driveway to the flower pot keep her attention far longer than many of her toys. The hose is a wonderful play thing as well. I bought a drinking-water safe hose at Lowes.

We spent a whole morning wishing on dandelions.

And flower sniffing - lots of fun for Linnea, lots of picture opportunities for Mom.

Every spring I order caterpillars from Carolina Biological Supply. We watch the little caterpillars grow into big caterpillars. Yesterday, they started making their cocoons. We will transfer them into the butterfly habitat soon, and then when they hatch, we'll release them outdoors.

Arielle has been keeping a notebook about the caterpillars and we read them The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.

We also watched ants tunnel through the Amazing Bugs Ant Kit. Arielle was very scared of ants last summer, but now sh thinks of them as friends. Linnea loves blowing kisses to the "nants" at bed time.

And finally, we put up a bird feeder outside our big living room window. When a bird comes to the feeder Linnea yells "Bwoidie" and Arielle asks "What kind of bird is it?" Then I look it up in my bird guide and we write down the time and date.

Sometimes the squirrels climb in and then we have lots of giggles about "squirrel birds." I wish I had a picture.

We talk to our kids about loving and caring for the Earth but the best way to teach them to love and care is by letting them enjoy nature - hands on. Happy Spring!