Sunday, October 28, 2012

Calico Critter Deluxe Village House

I bought a few dollhouses this year for my own collection and for my nieces/nephews to play with but they are all fairly small and from different toy brands/lines.  So I have a mismatched collection of dollhouses, miniatures food and furnitures, mini dolls, etc.  But when I found out about the Calico Critters collection, I no longer wanted to buy any other dollhouses and miniatures but the ones from that particular brand. 

But since the toys from that brand are very expensive, I decided to go on the hunt for bargains and buy when I would find a good deal.  And sure enough, a good deal presented itself a few weeks ago in the form of the Deluxe Village House (which was the no. 1 dollhouse on my list) with a bonus gift set consisting of a bedroom and a mouse family with the baby twins.

The house is roomy and my nieces and nephews were extremely excited when they saw it! They spent hours, days, weeks playing with it :D A good investment I tell you!

I will do a detailed review of the house and furniture sets, etc, in future posts. But for now, here below are some of the ways the kids set up the house!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Brambly Hedge

I started reading the Brambly Hedge Jill Barklem this year only.  I had never heard of them before and accidentally found them while browsing for children's books.  Oh what a discovery it was for me!  I totally fell in love with her exquisite drawings and charming stories about little field mice living in hollow trees.  It was almost like entering a magical world and not wanting to leave once the story ends.

I bought the The Complete Brambly Hedge book (available at the UK Amazon online store) which contains the 8 Brambly Hedge books collection :
  1. Spring Story
  2. Summer Story
  3. Autumn Story
  4. Winter Story
  5. Poppy’s Babies
  6. Sea Story
  7. The High Hills
  8. The Secret Staircase

The stories are about a community of field mice living in Brambly Hedge.  The main characters are Primrose, a strong-willed little mouse and her best friend, Wilfred, who is always looking for adventures!  The stories are sweet and funny and all the characters are so lovable! 

What is really amazing about these books are the detailed illustrations.  The books are filled with color pictures, all incredibly beautiful and full of very small details showcasing the life of the mice in their homes or outdoors.  My favorite drawings are the ones from the kitchen.  Tons and tons of objects are shown and they are so well drawn that they resemble miniature toys (or so one could wished!).  Don't judge by my low-resolution photos though because they don't do the real illustrations any justice.  

To complement the book, I purchased the DVD as well : Brambly Hedge - The Classic Collection which is priced very reasonably and is available unfortunately only at UK Amazon for now. Be careful though because the DVD is coded for the UK so it may not play on your DVD player if you live in another country.  It only plays with one of  my old DVD player but no all of them.  This DVD includes the 4 stories listed below:
  1. Poppy’s Babies
  2. Sea Story
  3. The High Hills
  4. The Secret Staircase

I can't tell you how lovely it was to see the story come alive in these stop-frame animation episodes.  I wished there was a DVD for the 4 other stories as well. One could purchase used VHS (Remember them? Those big bulky tapes?) but I don't own a VHS player .  However, I was able to find the download of those 4 missing episodes on youtube  :)  

The children love those stories and movies.  They ask to watch them again and again. I really wished they could make a line of toys based on the Brambly Hedge stories and characters.  I surfed online for figurines or dollhouses and came across this extraordinary hand-made Miniature Tree House by Maddie Chambers inspired from Brambly Hedge's Crabby Cottage in Spring story.

The picture below is from her Website and you must must must go there to take a look because you will then see each room in detail and see how she built some of the miniature items from scratch!  I am absolutely floored by her creation: so much beauty, patience, and passion went into this Tree House that one can't helped but be amazed at her creativity and sheer talent!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Li'l Woodzeez and Lalaloopsy Mini Dolls

I posted this on my Tumblr a long time ago before this blog existed so I am going to re-post it here because the Lalapoosy and Woodzeez collections are too adorable and awesome to not talk about :D

Li’l Woodzeez Bakery Shop

I had been eye-ing this Li’l Woodzeez Bakery Shop for a long time and after reading the super detailed review from the Toy Box Philosopher, I decided to buy it. I won’t post tons of photos because The Toy Box Philosopher already showed many great photos.

I bought it mainly because the set is gorgeous and the miniatures are so detailed and you can’t beat this quality! At only $20, this is a bargain! I just checked the price again today and it's on sale right now at Target :) If you can't find it at Target anymore, you can still get it at Amazon here but for a higher price.

What was truly fantastic was that each muffin, cookie, croissant, cupcake, pie, etc, is actually and individual piece that you can take out of the tray like you can see in the photos above. You can even take out the gingerbread man!  This is a big plus because usually the food is stuck to the trays like with the toys from Strawberry Shortcake or Lalaloopsy’s mini dolls.

I also bought it because it is scaled perfectly for my Lalaloopsy’s and Strawberry Shortcake’s dolls. In the photos I used Berry from the Berry’s Kitchen set. She fits so well in this bakery with her apron and her little glove. The chair is from Crumb’s Tea Party set (another Lalaloopsy doll).

The bakerycomes with 85 pieces listed below (taken from the Woodzeez Website):

1 bakery, 1 measuring cup, 1 flour bag, 1 shelf, 1 counter display, 1 round table, 1 cupcake stand with 9 cupcakes, 2 cakes, 3 slices of cake, 1 flower vase, 9 pies, 2 milk bottles, 1 mixing bowl, 1 donut tray with 6 donuts, 1 cookie tray with 6 cookies, 1 muffin pan with 6 muffins, 1 croissant tray with 3 croissants, 1 baguette basket with 5 baguettes, 1 rolling pin, 1 lump of dough with 1 cut out piece, 1 ginger bread man cookie cutter, 1 ginger bread man cookie, 10 loaves of bread, 1 open/closed door sign, 1 apron, 1 baker's hat, 2 oven mitts.

All the children I babysit are mesmerized by this bakery and the mini dolls and they spent hours playing with it. Truly a great buy!

Li'l Woodzeez Honeysuckle Hollow General Store

The next photos are the Lalaloopsy Mini Dolls Crumb’s Tea Party and Alice in Lalaloopsyland in Li’l Woodzeez Honeysuckle Hollow General Store (available at Target or Amazon too).

In my opinion the General Store is not as cute as the Li’l Woodzeez bakery.  But it comes with 90 pieces and very well made miniature food and objects. With a price tag of only $20 it is really a good purchase. 

What I really like was the little brown canvas bag in which you can put merchandise in. Now the Lalaloopsy dolls have a place where they can buy what they need :)

You get a total of 90 pieces in the General Store (the list is from Li’l Woodzeez Website):

1 general store, 1 counter, 2 small jars of jam, 2 large jars of jam, 2 jars of peanut butter, 2 jars of chocolate spread, 4 large plates, 2 small plates, 2 bottles, 2 jars of preserves, 1 coat hanger, 1 small can, 2 large cans, 2 milk cartons, 1 cheese wheel, 1 apple basket, 1 strawberry basket, 1 tomato basket, 1 banana basket, 1 green pepper basket, 1 carrot basket, 2 flower pots, 1 shovel, 1 welcome sign, 1 candy stand, 2 thread spool, 1 sugar barrel with 1 scoop, 1 broom, 3 bars of soap, 2 egg crates, 2 bags of flour, 1 box of dish soap, 1 box of laundry soap, 1 dust pan, 1 pair of scissors, 1 hand shovel, 1 small rake, 1 watering can, 1 door sign, 2 baguettes, 1 potato sac, 3 seed cards, 3 apples, 1 bag of soil, 2 canvas bags, 2 rolls of fabric, 1 apron, 1 food scale, 1 jar with 3 lollipops, 12 jars of bubblegum.

The store and bakery are great additions to Sylvanian Families (aka Calico Critters) toys,  Lalaloopsy Mini Dolls, and Strawberry Shortcakes Mini Dolls too since they are all about the same scale.  The Sylvanian Families food items are smaller though and I won't let my 3 year-old nephew play with them because he drops them all the time.  But he has no problem handling the Woodzeez items since they are slighty bigger and somewhat just the right size for his little fingers.

Caution: Some children still put small items in their mouth at 3 or even 4 so it's best to know the child before letting him/her play with such small toys! 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Last Friday I received a big package from my best friend in High School. Guess what was in the package?  Books from the MARTINE serie!!! It's an old French book collection for little girls! I was beside myself with joy and nostalgia just looking at those old picture books that I loved so much during my childhood!  

All the books in that collection are about Martine, the main character, and her life with her family and friends.  The books are written in French by Marcel Marlier and Gilbert Delahaye.  50 book titles have been published since the first one in 1954.

One thing about Martine is that style of the illustrations change slightly throughout the years and my favorite remain the drawings from the 50s and 60s. You can see that quite clearly in some of the pages below from the books I received. Each era is easily recognizable with the fashion and hairstyle depicted in the illustrations.

Martine en bateau (1961)

Martine petite maman (1968)

Martine fait la cuisine (1974)

Martine, la leçon de dessin (1999)

L'arche de Noé (2003)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Sylvanian Families aka Calico Critters

Last week I had a really bad day.  I slept an hour the night before due to a fever and cold.  I could not go to work and stayed home... but there was not a moment of peace for me due to many reasons out of my control.  The incessant noise and interruptions kept me from getting the rest I needed.

I was beyond frustrated when the kids came home from school and I knew I would have no help from anybody either so I was on my own to babysit them for 5 hours before their parents came to pick them up.  I thought desperately about what I could possibly do to have a calm afternoon/evening.  So I decided to take out my collection of Sylvanian Families aka Calico Critters for the kids to play with.

It was a wise choice my friend!  They played passionately and nicely with the toys!  No videogames, no TV, no squabbling.  Just the good old house pretend play.

If you don't know what the Sylvanian Families are, you are missing out big time!  In the USA, they are marketed under the name of Calico Critters but in other countries they are known as Sylvanian Families.  They originated from Japan and they are such well made toys.  But a warning: it's addictive... prepare to spend a lot because each set is quite expensive.  

If you are a fan of miniatures and dollhouses, this is probably one of the best investment you could do because these toys are made with so much details and are good quality toys... and most importantly, the children love them! No, I don't get paid to write this! (I wished LOL!)

I have yet to buy a house from the Calico Critters Collection so I am using for now other dollhouses I have.  In the photos below I used the Li'l Woodzeez Honeysuckle Hollow General Store and the Lil Woodzeez Tickle Your Taste Buds Bakery which you can also buy at Target in store (if you are lucky to find them) or online. 

One set that I really like is the Calico Critters Country Bedroom Furniture Set which comes with the following items:
  • a rocking chair
  • a bed with mattress, bed sheet and pillow
  • an armoire with two doors that can open and two drawers that can open as well
  • a bedside table (or night stand) with one drawer that opens
  • a lamp
  • a storage trunk
In my picture below you can also see the TV set that came with the Calico Critters Living Room Accessories Set which I will tell you about in more details in another blog post.

Another set I bought is the Calico Critters Kitchen Set & Accessories which has a lot more items! It has about 40 accessories including the cutest miniature food, toaster, baking trays, knife, cutting board, etc. The set also includes :
  • a round table with 2 chairs
  • a kitchen counter with sink
  • an oven that can open
  • a refrigerator with opening doors 
  • a hutch with drawers that can open

The mice family you see in the photos are the Calico Critters Norwood Mouse Family but there are many other families to choose from.  They come with clothes and are just super adorable. You can bend their arms and legs and make them sit down or stand up.

I'll post more about the other sets I have in another blog post because they are so darn cute I really have to write more about them :P

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Oscar and the Very Hungry Dragon

Do you like dragons? I don't know anybody who does not like them!  Children are especially fascinated by them and they never fail to pick up a book about dragons at each library trip we make.

This week we stumbled upon Oscar and the Very Hungry Dragon by Ute Krause.

It's starts like most dragon story, with an evil dragon who terrorizes a village and wants to eat the princess. But since the princess leaves in her car, the villagers decides to randomly pick one child to take her place: in this case our hero Oscar.

But little Oscar is very clever and finds a way to not get eaten... He tricks the dragon by telling him to fatten him up by letting him eat more.  He would then cooks all kind of delicious dishes and attempts to convince the dragon to try eating human food instead of humans.

This story shows a lot of similarities with the old fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel.  This detail was not lost on my boy who exclaimed : "That's what happened in Hansel and Gretel!" I was pleased that he remembered because I didn't recall him being very fond of any fairy tales so that was sure a surprise for me to see that he indeed remembered the story I read to him :P

All my nephews took turn reading the books and they loved it. A warning though: there is a "bad word" in the book and that's "SHUT UP".  When the kids came across that part, they gasped and ran to show it to me, saying "I can't believe they have a bad word in a book!"

Apart from that one flaw, the book is really just fun to read.  And the pictures are so cute. The oven, pots and pans, chairs, table and food look like miniature toys compared to the big dragon.  Since I am biased toward anything miniature, I was instantly won over!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Crafty Rainy Days

It has been raining for the last 2 days. I do love the rain very much so that was just fine with me.  I was also very tired from my week at the office and wanted only one thing: to relax at home, with my feet up and read books, and not go outside this weekend.  I gained 14 lbs since the start of my pregnancy but I do feel a lot heavier and it is now more difficult to move quickly around compared to before.

But my nephews were bored out of their mind.  I had no energy left to do anything with them so I took out my stash of cardboard box, paper towel rolls, scissors and paints and let them have a crafty rainy day.

Well it turned out just great.  They kept themselves busy and quietly worked on their project!  They looked up many photos of airplanes from the internet and used those models as base.  The oldest helped the younger ones quite a lot so they were able to learn new tricks and create these very interesting airplanes.   

This is a B-17 Marine Bomber.  It's not painted yet because it took so long to finish.

This is apparently a Star Wars X-Wing Fighter. The glue wouldn't work so they used tape for this one.

This is a WW2 bomber ...but I am not sure as the kid wasn't sure himself :P

To avoid the eventual mess after each crafty activities, I usually cover the table with a plastic tablecloth (sold in the party/birthday section of most stores). So after they finish, all you need to do is just gather up the corners of the tablecloth and throw away whatever trash is left on the table.  That saves me a lot of time cleaning up paint stains or throwing away itsy bitsy pieces of cardboard and paper.

I previously taught the kids how to clean up the table and how to use a broom and dustpan so they can take turn cleaning up after each messy activity (crafts, playdough, painting, etc).  I thought at first that they would not like that extra responsibility but it turned out that they actually love to clean up now that they know exactly what to do.

And the best part, I don't even have to assign the chores: they talk among themselves and decide who will clean up the table, who will sweep, etc.  And they do a pretty darn good job too. This sure taught me to never underestimate children's willingness to learn and improve.  With the sense of accomplishment for having done something useful, comes also the sense of pride for being able to do it well.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

House mouse, field mouse... and wind-up mouse

My boy and nephews/nieces have to maintain a book log each day for school.  They basically have to read at least one book a day and record it in their book log for their teacher to see.  Once a week they write a book report. Since they do their homework after school under my supervision, I decided to get a bunch of books at the library.  

This week I got some books from Leo Lionni.  He has received many awards already for his work. His stories are captivating and his illustrations are adorable! 

Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse

Among the books I borrowed, this book is the children's favorite and mine too. It tells the story of Alexander, a little house mouse who becomes friend with Willy, a wind-up mouse.  The illustrations are very cute and the story is simple but beautiful.  The power of friendship has been told before but this story has a magical and mysterious twist to it! 

Theodore and the Talking Mushroom

Another book the kids liked was this very short story about Theodore, a field mouse, who is afraid of everything. His friends do not seem to be very nice as they laugh at him for his lack of "special talent".  But Theodore may be small and easily frightened but he sure is very clever. He discovers a blue mushroom that can apparently talk and he plays a trick on his friend!  The kids thought it was a funny story but I personally did not like it because of a very silly reason: the talking blue mushroom freaked me out big time!

The fact that it could utter a word without having a personality was creepy and I really thought it was going to eat Theodore at some point (have no fear, it did not happen). I know it's so silly but to me the mushroom was not cute; it was monstruous!

Nicolas, Where Have You Been?

I have mixed feelings about this book. It tells the story of field mice and their search for sweet berries.  But the problem is that the birds ate all the sweet berries and so only sour or unripe berries are left.  Nicolas, one little mouse, goes on a quest to find sweet berries and is kidnapped by a big bird... but he escapes and falls into the nest of a nice family of birds.

The moral of the book is great and the storyline is well told. But... and that's a big BUT, it has also two full pages of illustration depicting a fight scene of incredible violence between the mice and birds.  The mice look terribly angry, and chase after the birds with sticks, one mouse even stands on top of a bird and is shown stabbing the bird who is bleeding!

I wished I had seen this illustration before my kid read the book because we were both very shocked and the boy was upset afterward. Which reminds me to read the books or at least the reviews before giving the children any books to read.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mid-Autumn Festival

It's this time of year again!  Mooncakes, Dragon dances, and paper lanterns! Have you guessed yet? Well yes, it's the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival or Mooncake Festival!

The Mid-Autumn Festival is held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese lunar calendar, which usually falls in September or October in the solar calendar.  This year it will fall on September 30th.

I love the eat the sweet mooncakes with some hot tea! My friend just gave me the mooncake below! Can't wait to eat it tomorrow for dessert!

I went to the library to find some books to read to the kids about the festival.  I was quite excited when I  found one about the festival and also a few more books about Chinese culture.  I am showing a few below that I like very much.

Thanking the Moon: Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival

It's written and illustrated by Grace Lin who is the author of quite a few books. There are not a lot of text but the pages are filled with colorful illustrations. It's simple enough to read to a toddler but yet the older kids can learn a few basic information from the books as well.

Dim Sum for Everyone!

The kids love to eat Dim Sum so this book was very liked. The children especially enjoyed reading the name of the dishes they have tried when they went to eat at the restaurant.

Fortune Cookie Fortunes

Who doesn't like Fortune cookies? It's such a fun way to end a meal and we all share and giggle at the fortune we read in our cookie!  The kids like to read this book (though not as much as the Dim Sum book).

Bringing in the New Year

Another fun book frrom Grace Lin. This one is about the Lunar New Year.  There are some cool illustrations of paper/fabric dancing dragons and lions but it is my least favorite among her collection though because I felt so much more could have been said about the Lunar New Year.  But then again it's really a book for kids so I think she wanted to keep it simple enough for them.